We’ve spent a bit of time in this series discussing many of the aspects of fall protection; let’s talk now about the use of harnesses. In construction, many times a safety harness should be a part of a worker’s daily gear. You may be surprised to know that despite falls being one of the leading causes of death at work, many workers continue to avoid using the proper fall protection equipment, including safety harnesses.
According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, employers pay roughly $40 billion in workers’ compensation claims. Part of that is due to workers not using safety equipment or using inadequate safety measures. Why are workers failing to use personal protective equipment? Often times, it’s reported that safety gear is either uncomfortable or hinders them from accomplishing a task. Most times, it is due to lack of adequate fall protection training.
What workers need to know about their harnesses:
A worker’s harness is the main component of a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) and should be selected with care. Here are a few things to remember when choosing a full body harness:
- Harnesses are designed to distribute forces over the upper thighs, pelvic region, chest and shoulders
- A harness should be selected based on the type of work that will be done at height (construction, ladder work, tower work and roof work)
- Each application requires a specific series of components including webbing, side, rear and frontal D-rings and lanyard rings
- Be sure to assess other potential hazards. Does the worker need to protect against arc flash or flash fire or water?
- Harness should be selected based on the best possible fit. In fall protection, one size does not fit all. Make sure workers know how to properly adjust harness
- A harness should be comfortable. It’s the only way to ensure a worker will keep the equipment on for the duration of the task
- Be sure to check manufacturer instructions for maintenance and cleaning procedures
- Workers should be trained on how to inspect harness for signs of wear and tear, fraying, loose stitching, corrosion or damage to belts, D-rings, attachments, rivets, webbing, frames and buckles
- Workers should be trained to know when any of their safety equipment must be removed from service for repair or replacement. Any harness or gear that has been subject to the shock loads of a fall should be removed from service and destroyed
It doesn’t stop at just supplying the right safety equipment. Make sure workers know how to use them!
Training, that’s right. When was the last time that your crew was trained on how to use their PPE correctly? Do your workers know the proper steps to don a harness?
- Hold harness by back D-ring. Shake harness to allow all straps to fall into place
- Release chest/leg/waist straps and unbuckle
- Slip straps over shoulder so that D-ring is located between shoulder blades
- Pull leg straps between legs and connect to opposite end
- If a belted harness, connect waist strap after the leg strap
- Connect chest strap and position in mid-chest area. Tighten
- Tighten all buckles until snug, but allow full range of movement
- Pass excess straps through loops
Avoid suspension trauma by having a rescue plan in place!
Suspension trauma, otherwise known as orthostatic intolerance (OI), happens when a worker falls and is suspended in their harness for a period of time that blood begins to pool in their legs. The longer the worker is immobilized in this position, the more likely blood will fail to circulate, leading to unconsciousness or death. This is one of the main reasons a rescue plan should be in place any time an employee is working at heights. Relief straps are an important part of that rescue plan and can alleviate the effects of OI. By providing a short term solution as simple as this, you can provide the working with support and promote blood circulation until worker can be rescued.
Harnesses have evolved over the years and have become much more comfortable and effective. In fact, there are options available in some full body harnesses that include positioning rings, tool lanyard attachments, lumbar support, and flame-resistant protection. There are solutions for all of your workers’ safety needs.
As with any kind of safety equipment, the more workers know about their systems, the safer they will be. The same is true for harness safety. The best way to ensure workers are well trained and knowledgeable about their PPE is to have qualified persons install the safety programs and competent persons train and retrain as needed. You can never have too much knowledge when it comes to worker safety. By instilling a culture of safety in your worksite or facility, you can make sure workers stay safe and your company’s reputation remains intact.