The law is clear when it comes to the requirements for fall protection harness. Safety equipment must be capable of protecting workers in their moment of need, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seeks to ensure this by requiring that all products be tested to rigorous standards. The regulations go so far as to prescribe the precise maximum weight loads and arresting forces that safety product manufacturers must test against, so that all products are forced to meet the same high bar for ensuring worker safety. OSHA’s standards for fall protection and PPE are laid out in OSHA 1926 Subpart M (fall protection) and OSHA 1910 (general industry safety).
In addition, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private nonprofit organization that helps industries develop voluntary standards for products and systems. The construction industry has its own set of standards pertaining to fall protection and fall safety, notably ANSI Z359.11-2014 for fall protection harnesses and ANSI A10.32-12 for fall protection compliance.
Make sure that the harness you choose is rated for the appropriate OSHA and ANSI standards. You should be able to find these exact standard numbers on the product’s website or packaging, the product’s manual or spec sheet, and labeled on the product itself.
Every safety harness comes equipped with a dorsal ring (D-ring) that can be used as an attachment point for fall arrest lanyards and SRLs. But there are many other D-rings and attachment points that can optionally be included on your harness, depending on your intended application. If you will be working suspended and need your hands free to work — as is often the case with tower work or rebar construction — find a harness that includes hip or side D-rings, which allow positioning devices such as a belly chain or a rebar chain assembly to connect to the harness for hands-free positioning. If you will be climbing a fixed ladder, look for a harness with a front (sternal) D-ring.
Choosing a harness that doesn’t fit properly is frustrating at best and downright dangerous at worst. Struggling to find a harness that fits correctly the first time and trying to decode harness sizing that varies between manufacturers can even delay your work.
When it fits properly, a harness should fit snugly but not be constricting. You should be able to slip your fingers — but not a fist — between your body and the harness. There should not be excess webbing hanging down that can get in the way or your work or get caught in machinery.
When worn correctly, the D-ring should be positioned high in the center of your back, sitting between your shoulder blades. (A front D-ring should be centrally positioned at your sternum or breastbone.) D-rings positioned high in the center of your body allow your fall protection equipment to do its job, safely keeping you in an upright position and distributing the force of arresting a fall throughout your body.
Safety equipment only works when you use it. If a harness is uncomfortable, most workers will not want to wear it all day — and who could blame them? But fall protection harnesses need to be worn at all times whenever you are working at heights, even during a long shift working up high in the hot sun carrying heavy gear all day. The last thing you need is to find your harness uncomfortable.
A lightweight harness can help to relieve the total load you have to carry on your body all day. Many harnesses come with extra padding at the shoulders, back, waist, and legs, which can significantly improve your comfort while wearing them.
If you will be working at night, in inclement weather, or in any other situation in which your visibility may be a concern, you want to ensure your harness will be visible. Because your harness is worn over top of all your clothing, it is that much more important that the harness itself is highly visible, and ideally reflects light. Most fall protection harnesses are made from brightly colored material, and many include reflective materials or reflective stitching that help you be seen even in low light or poor visibility conditions.
Proper maintenance and inspection of your safety equipment is key to ensuring you and your team remains safe on the job. Before using your harness, be sure to inspect it for any signs of damage or wear. Be sure to check the webbing, stitching, and hardware to ensure they are free from cuts, burns, breakage, excessive wear, or any other damage.
A quality harness can last you for many years as long as it is properly maintained. Of course, everyday wear and damage can occur with repeated use, which is why routine inspections are so important. Once a harness shows any signs of damage or wear, it’s time to replace it.
In addition, any harness that has been involved in a fall incident — one in which the fall arrest system deployed to stop an uncontrolled descent — should be replaced immediately. Fall protection harnesses are tested and rated to arrest a fall but the forces at work when a fall arrest system engages can be staggering. Even a successfully deployed fall arrest system that prevents any injury to the worker can put stress on a harness’s webbing and hardware that may go unseen. It is best not to take any chances and to replace any harness that was worn during a fall.
Your safety harness is a personal choice that’s influenced by your comfort and the kind of work that you do. Wearing a reliable, well maintained harness from a manufacturer you can trust can literally save your life. By considering the seven questions outlined above when choosing your harness, you can ensure that you always have exactly the right gear that you need to keep you safe.