Every year, thousands of employees are injured or killed in U.S. workplaces due to preventable accidents. In 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 847 fatalities and 243,860 injuries from falls alone. Safety harnesses are an important component of Personal Fall Arrest systems (PFAs). Such devices minimize injury if an employee falls from a height of 6 feet or more. OSHA requirements govern PFA components, use and care.
A safety harness works by spreading the force applied by a fall arrest system over as much of a worker's body as possible. The harness is connected to an anchorage point via a decelerator such as a shock-absorbing lanyard or a retractable lifeline. OSHA limits the maximum allowable arresting force for body harnesses to 1,800 pounds. The entire PFA system is designed to safely reduce the momentum of a fall and prevent contact with a lower level or the ground. The harness specifically helps minimize internal injuries. It also allows workers to attempt self-rescue in the event of a fall, since it provides freedom of movement.
The straps (webbing) must be made of synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon. They should be designed to distribute the force of fall arrest evenly over the waist, chest, pelvis, thighs and shoulders. All buckles and other connectors must have a smooth, corrosion-resistant finish. Connectors are generally made of drop-forged, formed or pressed steel. However, materials of an equivalent strength and durability are also acceptable. The tensile strength of each D ring is set at 5,000 pounds. A connection point must be provided so that the harness can be attached to the rest of the PFA system.
The D ring located high in the center of the back is the appropriate connection point for fall arrest purposes. A safety harness may also feature other D rings that can be used for positioning, restraint and rescue. Only locking snap hooks are acceptable for connecting a lanyard or lifeline to a safety harness. This prevents "roll out"--a situation in which a snap hook accidentally detaches from a connector. OSHA prohibits the use of safety harnesses for hoisting materials. These devices can only be used for personal protection.
Inspection and Care
Safety harnesses must be visually inspected before each use. OSHA regulations prohibit the use of damaged, defective or excessively worn components. Check for frayed or pulled fibers on the webbing and stitching. Also watch for discoloration; this may indicate chemical damage. Look for cracks, rough edges and distortion of any metal components. Clean the harness with a damp sponge and a mild soap and water solution. Wipe it down with a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Allow the harness to air dry away from sunlight and high temperatures. Store this equipment where it will not come into contact with corrosive or contaminating substances.
It is not safe for a worker to remain suspended in a safety harness after a fall. Rescue by trained personnel should begin immediately to avoid suspension trauma.