Proprietary Systems vs Prescribed Systems

The fundamental difference between types of fall arrest and access system installations and their impacts on PCBUs and users.

What is the difference between a Proprietary System and a Prescribed System?

Fall-arrest or access assemblies such as static lines, rigid rails, davits, etc can fall under two categories when considering their design and installation.  The most common is a Proprietary System (this is sometimes called an engineered system), the other option is a Prescribed System(this is sometimes called a mixed manufacturer system).  Identifying the difference between the two is important for several reasons:


Proprietary System

The system is pre-engineered and is compliant to the relevant Australian Standard if it is installed within the installation limitations and guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

Prescribed System

Each installed system is designed by a rigger or engineer and each system must be supplied with the relevant supporting documentation and calculations validating the design.  It is incumbent of the installer to meet the relevant Australian Standards.

Compatibility (System Certification)

Each component within the system is designed and engineered to function together.  Only components within the system can be used (no mix of manufacturer components*).

The selection is not limited to a single manufacturer, however, the components must be specified in the engineering or design documentation.

Fixing and Substrate

Documented in the manufacturers’ installation guides.

Documented in the Engineering or design documentation.

Prototyping / Sampling (System Testing)

Prototypes and samples are developed and tested as part of the system development process.

Prototyping may be used to validate engineering or design assumptions.

Use Manual and Parameters for use

Supplied by the manufacturer.  Site-specific limitations are to be considered and documented as necessary.  Manufacturer documentation supplied as part of the handover documentation for the installation.

Prepared by the installer considering the engineering, materials, site-specific usage requirements.

Onus of the design to be compliant to the relevant Australian Standard and compliance documentation.

Manufacturer (when installed according to the installation guidelines).


* As soon as there is a mix of components from different manufacturers or different systems from the same manufacturer, then the system migrates from a Proprietary System to a Prescribed System.

When a system is installed, it is incumbent on the installation company to provide the relevant usage documentation and installation type.  It is generally assumed that systems are installed as Proprietary Systems.   This will be evident by supplying the usage documentation from the manufacturer.   The installation must then be installed and capable of being recertified according to the installation guide supplied by the manufacturer.

Why is all this important?

A PCBU has responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all users, whether staff, contractors or visitors.  When a manufacturer designs a fall-arrest or access system, the design is tested as a complete and proprietary unit based on key performance requirements aligned with Standards. Changing componentry, even the cable specification, can severely compromise the performance in the event of a fall and place users at significant risk. Within the parameters of a Prescribed System, as defined above, there is no specific testing of the system to ensure it will function appropriately, only assumptions based on individual components approvals. This approach does not guarantee a safe and appropriate design and could potentially result in a non-compliant fall arrest or access system. 

As a Prescribed System is an untested system, it relies heavily on the competence of the installer for both safety and compliance. 

Our recommendation is PCBUs request all relevant documentation to support claims of compliance. Correct system design and adherence to manufacturers requirements, all supported by the appropriate paperwork, will serve mitigate the risk and exposure to the building owner and PCBU, and create a safe workplace for any person needing to access the space.

Meeting Regulatory Requirements

Under WHS Regulations, height safety systems used as a control measure must be:

(a) designed by an engineer for the purpose for which it is intended to be used; or

(b) inspected and approved by a competent person before the anchorage point is first used by any person.

Under these regulations, you must also prove that the system meets the minimum load ratings and energy absorption requirements. It is also a requirement that the system installation is in accordance with either the manufacturer’s instructions (in the case of Proprietary Systems), or in the case of a prescribed system, those of an engineer or competent person.

As a result, the compliance of non-proprietary system relies heavily on the “competent person” with the responsibility falling directly with the designer, and ultimately with the PCBU.

An in-house engineer provides ideal qualifications for this kind of system design, but if not available, the competent person must still have the requisite qualifications, training, expertise and experience. Because these systems will be their responsibility, they must ensure it is fully compliant, fit for purpose, safe for use and has been installed correctly.

From a WAHA perspective, approaching system design like this is a large responsibility and opens up our significant exposures for all parties. Working in collaboration with systems manufacturers to customise solutions is a more robust means of managing unique structures and problems.

Being competent in various aspects of height safety does not necessarily prepare a technician to sign off on a system that could be in use for the next decade. Especially when you consider that its sole purpose is to arrest a potentially fatal fall from height.

Manufacturers may choose to only provide proprietary technical installation or inspection information to trained and approved installers as a means of ensuring the safe and auditable installation of their systems and as a means of maintaining quality. Using only “approved” design and installation partners ensures all personnel are trained correctly and also appropriate user training is included in the handover. This helps manufacturers cover their duty of care obligation to asset owners and end users alike. However, there may also be instances of a lack of disclosure being made for commercial gain, as a means of retaining continual work, for future re-certifications. This type of business practice is against the WAHA philosophy and does not serve the best interests of safety.

WAHA accepts that these decisions around disclosure are based on a variety of reasons, but there may be consequences for each of the stakeholders where:

  • a person is not certified to inspect or install certain manufacturers’ products leading to incorrect and/or unsafe installation and certification
  • the manufacturer or installer refuses to release information / documentation for the certification process to be undertaken
  • a client or asset owner wishes to use another business for other reasons


How can a PCBU minimise their risk in choosing a system or modifications to an existing system?

The easiest way to minimise risk is to specify a Proprietary System.  If a Proprietary System is not a valid option for a site-specific reason, then the PCBU should request all of the associated engineering or design documentation be supplied with the handover documentation then it be kept in a long term archive that is accessible when:

  • required for users to ensure it is used correctly or
  • required for recertification to ensure it is inspected correctly or
  • required for trainers to ensure that people are trained correctly on its usage or
  • required as evidence if there was to be a failure.