Airbags for fall protection?

One of our colleagues was recently asked about the idea of using airbags for fall protection.  The question was framed with the idea that if stunt people use them in the movies, maybe they could be a solution for other professions.

The idea of using airbags for fall protection has not been directly addressed by OSHA regulations or ANSI standards.  While I can’t speak for their reasons not to address this concept, I have my own opinion of why this may not be a feasible solution for fall protection.  First, these personal airbags are designed for the person falling in a controlled manner.  Commonly, the person falling has some acrobatic or gymnastic training and a significant amount of practice in falling the “correct” way.  Unfortunately, workplace falls are typically not planned and there is rarely sufficient time to orient your body in the proper manner.  Falling onto an airbag in the wrong orientation (i.e., head first) could cause significant injury.

I have recently contacted a manufacturer of these devices to find out about their use and limitations and how they could be arranged for a sample fall protection scenario.  While this technology may advance in the coming years, I think there are currently too many limitations to apply it to occupational fall protection.

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