Fall Protection D-Rings
Full-body harnesses used in fall protection are available in various D-Ring configurations. What are D-Rings? D-Rings get their name from the fact that they are generally D-shaped, although their exact shape can vary. These D-Rings are sewn into the harness webbing and serve as loops to which other components, such as lanyards and self-retracting lifelines (SRLs), attach.
In this handy guide, you’ll learn about the different types of fall protection D-Rings and their most common applications. We’ll also provide some valuable tips on how to use a safety harness and practice body harness safety.
How to Use Harness D-Rings Safely
In this section, we’ll introduce the most common types of D-Rings and discuss some ways they can be safely used:
- Dorsal D-Ring: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all fall protection safety harnesses to include a D-Ring on the back, also known as a dorsal D-Ring. This is the required safety harness attachment point for a fall arrest harness. Connecting a personal fall arrest system to a back-ring harness helps keep the body upright during a fall and lets the harness do what it was meant to — distribute the forces of a fall arrest throughout the body.
- Side D-Rings: A personal safety harness may include extra D-Rings on the sides by the hips. These are not attachment points used in fall arrest, but rather useful points to connect devices to during work positioning. When an employee is held in suspension, common in tower applications and rebar construction, a positioning device can be attached to the side D-Rings. These positioning systems give more flexibility to workers in suspension, although they must be used together with — and cannot replace — standard fall protection connected to the dorsal D-Ring.
- Chest and shoulder D-Rings: A fall arrest body harness sometimes comes with chest D-Rings, which can serve as points of attachment for climbing applications. Again, these are not proper points of connection for fall arrest systems. Some other harnesses, such as those used for confined spaces or rescue operations, may feature shoulder D-Rings, which are excellent for safely lowering or hoisting a worker but are not meant to arrest an uncontrolled fall.
Body Harness: A Vital Component of a Personal Fall Arrest System
A personal fall arrest system has three vital components — the anchor, the connecting device and the body harness. In this section, we’ll provide tips on how to use the body harness safely and effectively.
Safety Belts Are Not a Substitute
In a fall arrest situation, a safety belt doesn’t provide much safety. It’s illegal to wear one when working in a fall arrest situation. This is because a safety harness, unlike a safety belt, distributes the force of the fall arrest throughout the body and keeps the worker in an upright position afterward.
While safety belts are permitted when positioning or in fall restraint situations, it is highly advisable that employees always wear full-body harnesses, no matter the application.
Maximum Working Weight
The maximum working weight for a full-body harness is 310 pounds. If this weight is exceeded, you still have a few options:
- Pick a harness with a higher maximum working weight, such as 400 pounds.
- Order a custom-made harness.
- Avoid working at a height.
For the first two options, you must ensure your connecting device is also rated for the heavier weight.
Proper D-Ring Usage
D-Rings help ensure the body stays in an upright position during a fall, and in a fall arrest situation, only the dorsal D-Ring should be used. Other situations that require the use of specific D-Rings include:
- Fall restraint: Like with fall arrest, you must use the dorsal D-Ring.
- Positioning: Use the D-Rings on the chest, hips or waist.
- Fixed ladders: D-Rings on the waist and chest should be used.
- Fall arrest rescue: The D-Rings on the waist and chest should be used.
- Confined space rescue: Use the shoulder or dorsal D-Rings.
Speak with your employees about these aspects of dorsal D-Ring and front D-Ring safety harnesses in a toolbox talk or safety huddle to make sure your team is using the equipment effectively and safely.
Different Types of D-Rings
A full-body fall protection harness comes with various D-Ring configurations. The D-Ring configuration determines safety harness uses and situations, so it is critical to choose one designed for your specific job.
Full-body safety harnesses must all include a dorsal D-Ring, but many other types of D-Rings can be found on a harness, including ones on the side, at the shoulders and on the chest. D-Rings can be in other places as well, but here we will focus on the four most important — dorsal, side, sternum and shoulder:
- Dorsal D-Rings: These are suitable for fall arrest, fall restraint, retrieval and rescue situations.
- Sternal D-Rings: The sternal or chest D-Ring is suitable for fall arrest, fall restraint, retrieval and rescue applications.
- Side D-Rings: These are appropriate for work positioning when used as a pair, plus restraint applications.
- Shoulder D-Rings: These D-Rings are suitable for work positioning, retrieval and rescue when used as a pair. They also serve well for restraint applications.
Different D-Ring Applications
If you have safety harnesses with more D-Rings, you are responsible for knowing which applications you can use the harnesses for. Below, we will go into more depth about the applications each D-Ring is best suited for and why:
1. Fall Arrest
If you are working in a fall arrest situation, the dorsal D-Ring is the only connection point you can use — there are no exceptions. If you were to connect to another D-Ring for this application, this could result in the fall being arrested in a way that would injure or perhaps even kill the worker.
To understand why this is important, think about this — if a person falls, the safest way to do so is upright with the feet pointed down. If the person deviates from this position, this will induce stresses that may cause much more serious injury. It will also negate several of the harness’s features designed to reduce impact, such as the stretching of the harness’s webbing and the tear-away straps.
If the person falls with the lanyard attached to a side D-Ring, none of these features will help reduce the impact.
2. Fall Restraint
In a fall restraint situation, in which a worker is prevented from even reaching a fall hazard, the dorsal, side, chest or shoulder D-Rings can be used. As free fall isn’t permitted in this situation, the rules are different because the potential stresses generated by a fall arrest simply will not occur. Of course, depending on the work environment, a certain D-Ring connection may be better than another, but fall restraint situations allow you to use whichever D-Rings you prefer.
3. Work Positioning
Work positioning refers to a situation where a worker is held in suspension, allowing them to work freely using both hands. Tower work and rebar construction are examples of fields where workers commonly utilize positioning devices. To maximize work flexibility and comfort, the positioning devices should be attached to the rings on the side of the harness.
4. Confined Spaces or Rescue Situations
If you’re working within a confined space or are in a rescue situation, you can use the dorsal, shoulder and chest D-Rings. In both of these situations, the body must be kept as upright as possible. In rescue situations, the fall victim could already be in a critical state, so keeping the body upright will help ensure no further harm to the victim and minimize trauma.
In confined spaces — such as lowering an employee down into an opening — using shoulder rings will ensure the worker gets in and out easily.
Are You Using Your Fall Protection Properly?
Just because your workers are wearing safety harnesses doesn’t mean they’ll be safe — they need to make sure they’re using every component of the system correctly. To do this, they need proper training to be aware of potential safety harness hazards.
For instance, if a worker has not received body harness training in personal fall arrest systems, they may not even know how to put on their harness — there can be plenty of room for mistakes. They may just pick it up, look at the jumble of buckles and straps and get confused.
While some may ask for help, others may try their best to put it on but do so incorrectly, leaving themselves unprotected. For this reason, workers must receive training on how to put on their harnesses and what fall hazards they might encounter while working.
How to Put on a Safety Harness Safely
Here, we’ll walk you through the steps involved in putting on a safety harness:
- Inspect the harness: Before donning your harness, you must first inspect it. Whether you end up falling or not, you must treat the harness as if it will save your life every time you put it on. Examine all straps for indications of wear, including every buckle, plastic fitting and grommets. Look at the tag to learn when the last inspection was performed by the competent person in your company. If you conclude the harness can be safely used, put it on.
- Orient the harness: You can most easily do this by grabbing the D-Ring on the middle of the back and seeing how the harness hangs. This helps you better understand where the chest strap, leg straps and shoulder straps are.
- Step into the harness: Step into your leg straps — that is, unless they’re the kind with grommets, in which case you’ll secure them later on. Then, put your straps over your shoulders. Next, connect your chest strap.
- Have another person check the harness: Before continuing, have someone else inspect the harness. Doing this is essential because if there are any twists in one of the straps, you’ll have no way of seeing it.
- Adjust the harness: Not adjusting the harness could lead to unwanted situations. If the leg straps aren’t sufficiently tightened, they can shoot upward during a fall, which can rupture the testicles. If a chest strap is loose, you could come out of the harness and land head-first. Overtightened straps may cut off circulation. When tightening leg straps, you should be able to fit an open hand but not a fist between your leg and the strap. Afterward, tuck the strap ends into the fasteners. You won’t want parts of the harness flopping around.
Take Advantage of Malta’s Training and Inspection Services
At Malta Dynamics, we understand that buying fall protection equipment won’t necessarily keep your team safe. Your team members must know how to correctly put on, inspect, store and maintain the equipment to receive adequate protection on the job. That’s why we offer two training programs on Fall Protection Awareness and Competent Person Training that teach workers how to do these things. These courses can even be customized to suit your company’s needs. We also provide on-site options for groups.
We offer safety inspection services as part of a basic hazard analysis of your facility, which can help you identify areas of your equipment usage strategies that you can enhance. This single-day visit includes the basics of fall protection training, a basic evaluation of your facility, a site walk and an inspection of your safety equipment. For more information about hazard analysis options, check out our page on Hazard Analysis.
Top Misuses of Fall Protection Equipment and D-Rings
As fall protection equipment contains lots of parts, this leaves room for many mistakes, especially when you’re not fully versed on the basics of using body harnesses and D-Rings for safety harnesses. However, there are a few particularly common mistakes we’d like to mention so you can avoid them. These include:
1. Misusing Rebar Snap Hooks
Also known as large gates, form hooks or pelican hooks, rebar snap hooks are commonly used due to their large size and ability to attach to many objects. However, this type of equipment can only be employed for certain configurations. Using these hooks outside of these configurations can be hazardous.
Some people prefer rebar snap hooks because they make additional anchorage connectors unnecessary. This can be dangerous to users, however, because the strength of the anchorage chosen by the worker may not be sufficient, or it may cause the hook to be improperly loaded. Additionally, manufacturers design these hooks to be bigger to capture bigger structures, and these structures might not be directly above the person using the equipment.
The most effective method for mitigating possible misuse of the rebar snap hook is to make sure the anchorage connector D-Ring is bigger than the snap hook to prevent side loading of the hook. As this is hard to achieve, we encourage users to utilize a smaller anchor snap for attaining the right geometry.
If an employer chooses to use these hooks, they should know the hooks’ gate strength and be aware that certain hooks have two stress points aligning with the hook’s strongest points.
2. Anchoring Below the Dorsal D-Ring
Another common mistake regarding anchorage is people anchoring under their feet. When they do this, it increases free fall, which may exceed the equipment’s permissible limits. If a worker pushes a piece of equipment to its limit, this may cause the anchorage or lanyard to fail or exceed the permissible force on the body, which will increase the chances of a severe injury.
It’s critical to remember that, even if the fall is arrested, the longer the fall, the more forces on the body. In turn, serious injuries could occur. For this reason, it’s a good idea to avoid anchoring under the dorsal D-Ring. If you have no choice but to do so, use an SRL rated for extra free fall or a 12-foot free fall energy-absorbing lanyard. Keep in mind these lanyards have an arresting force greater than that of standard versions, so you must design the anchorage accordingly.
To mitigate the problem, do the following:
- Avoid standing if it isn’t necessary.
- Ensure your center of gravity remains low, thereby reducing the free fall distance.
- Use the appropriate equipment for the right application.
3. Mixing up Self-Retracting and Twin-Leg Energy-Absorbing Devices
While these two devices look alike and function similarly, many workers make the mistake of assuming they’re interchangeable. These two devices are tested in different conditions and applications, meaning you shouldn’t use them for things they haven’t been tested for.
Furthermore, people tend to misuse both lanyard types by anchoring under the dorsal D-Ring, which can increase the arresting force by several thousand pounds.
To avoid this problem, follow these tips:
- Ensure the device has been tested specifically for your application: Make sure self-retracting and twin-leg energy-absorbing devices have been tested in the way you intend to use them. For instance, if you attach below the dorsal D-Ring, make sure the device has been tested for extra free fall.
- Avoid connecting both legs to an anchorage: Attach the unused leg to the part of the harness that isn’t load-bearing by using the breakaway tab.
- Avoid anchoring both legs of the lanyard at the same height: Doing this could increase the arrest forces.
4. Not Ensuring the Equipment Fits Properly
Even if the harness’s condition is good, wearing it improperly can be hazardous. For instance, wearing a harness loosely creates a higher level of potential energy, which converts to kinetic energy when a fall occurs.
Other problems, like the position of the chest retainer strap or back D-Ring, could be seriously hazardous. A back D-Ring that’s too high could hit a worker’s head when falling, and one that’s too low could cause the worker to face the ground following the arrest, which increases the risk of suspension trauma. A chest retainer strap that’s too high could choke a worker, and one that’s too low could pull apart, allowing the worker to come out of the harness.
OSHA has set many regulations regarding full-body harnesses in personal fall arrest systems, which include the proper configuration and use of D-Rings. These regulations include:
- Components of a fall arrest system: A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) must include an anchor, connectors and a full-body harness. It can also include a retractable lifeline, shock-absorbing lanyard and deceleration device.
- Components of a safety harness: Safety harnesses must include leg and shoulder straps, adjustable fasteners and buckles, a sub-pelvic assembly and at least one D-Ring to attach to a lanyard.
- Use of D-Rings: The dorsal D-Ring must be used in a fall arrest system over other types of D-Rings.
- Strap adjustment: The harness should be the correct size for the worker and adjust so all straps are snug. The arm and leg straps should not be dangling, as this is a sign of an improperly worn harness.
All Malta Dynamics safety harnesses meet and exceed OSHA requirements to ensure ultimate worker safety while you’re on the job.
Come to Malta Dynamics for the Best Fall Protection Products on the Market
Malta Dynamics is a leader in the industry of fall protection systems. Whether you require more harness options or are looking to invest in a complete fall protection system, Malta Dynamics can provide you with everything your team needs. We also offer custom protection solutions and safety plans.
Browse our wide selection of safety equipment on our site or, if you have any questions, reach out to us using our form.