Personal Fall Arrest Systems (commonly referred to as PFAS) are used frequently in the construction industry across a wide variety of trades. The components of a PFAS include an anchor, connectors, and a full-body harness, and may include a shock-absorbing lanyard, a retractable lifeline, and/or a deceleration device.
While OSHA holds employers legally responsible for the safety of their employees, it is important for every single construction worker to be an advocate for their own safety. Making sure you are properly and well informed on all things related to PFAS’s is one way to ensure that.
This article answers common questions surrounding one of the PFSA components: the full body harness.
1. When Are Construction Workers Required to Wear a Safety Harness?
There is sometimes confusion around this topic because there are different standards for general industry vs. the construction industry. Standard 1926.501 of the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations regulations covers fall protection, specifically in the construction industry. It states:
“Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.”
It can also apply at heights lower than 6 feet if the employee is working near or above dangerous equipment or substances. To determine which situations are applicable to your trade specifically, you should read the regulation in full.
2. Who is Responsible for Purchasing / Providing Fall Protection Equipment to Construction Workers?
If the conditions of Standard 1926.501 (outlined above) are applicable, then Standard 1926.502 states that the employer is the one responsible for providing proper means of fall protection, which may include a full body harness, lifeline, lanyard and anchor.
There has been some confusion regarding whether the term ‘provide’ when it comes to all personal protective equipment includes paying for said equipment. With a few exceptions, OSHA requires employers to provide and pay for PPE when it is used to comply with OSHA standards.
3. Where Can I Buy a Safety Harness?
Harnesses are available for sale at local distribution centers near you. Since roofing is one of the top trades to use them, your best selection may be through a roofing supply center, even if you aren’t a roofing contractor.
If you have more than a handful of employees to purchase for, you may wish to consider reaching out to the distribution’s sales team as they can likely offer you a discount on bulk purchases. A sales representative can also assist you in selecting the proper fit and size for your employees.
There are many different manufacturers of harnesses, each of whom believe theirs to be the best. With the lives of your employees at stake, making a safety harness purchase is not the time to skimp on quality. We recommend selecting a harness from one of the top brands, including:
- DBI-SALA or Protecta (Both made by 3M) (US and Canada)
- Miller Honeywell (and Ms. Miller designed for women)
- Guardian Fall Protection
- French Creek Production
- FallTech Fall Protection
- MSA Safety Fall Protection (Canadian)
- Super Anchor Safety (with integrated tool belts)
- SafeWaze Fall Protection
- Malta Dynamics
4. How to Put on A Safety Harness in 5 Steps
Once you have purchased a safety harness, the next step is to ensure it is the proper fit for your employee and that they know how to put it on properly.
Although adjustable, some models come in different sizes and some are even gender specific. Begin by checking the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure the height and weight of the employee are within the allowable limits.
Here is the 5 steps process:
Safety harness components include shoulder straps and leg straps, a sub-pelvic assembly, adjustable buckles or fasteners, and one or more D-rings to connect to a lanyard. Inspect each component to ensure it is in safe working condition (more details below).
2. Position the D Ring
The dorsal D-ring is positioned between the worker’s shoulder blades with a fall arrest system. D-rings in other positions are sometimes included for use with ladder safety devices. For this reason, some harnesses come with D-rings on the front, sides, and lower back.
3. Buckle up legs
Your fingers should fit snugly between the strap and your leg. You should not have to force your fingers to fit beneath the leg straps.
4. Buckle up chest
A snug strap should not allow any slack. It lies in a relatively straight line without sagging.
A safe and effective harness is adjusted so that all straps are snug. Make sure the D-ring stays in place once the adjustment is complete.
(Image credit: OSHA)
5. How To Clean A Safety Harness
With the nature of the construction industry often being muddy, it’s very likely that a harness will need to be cleaned at some point. Here is how to accomplish that:
- Wipe off all surface dirt with a sponge dampened in plain water
- Squeeze the sponge dry
- Dip the sponge in a mild solution of water and mild detergent
- Work up a thick lather, with a vigorous back and forth motion
- Then wipe dry with a clean cloth
- Hang freely to dry, but away from excessive heat, steam or long periods of sunlight
6. How to Store a Safety Harness
Storage areas for a full body harness should be clean, dry and free of exposure to fumes, heat, direct ultraviolet light, sunlight and corrosive elements.
Do not store harnesses next to batteries; chemical attacks can occur if battery leaks.
7. When Does a Safety Harness Expire?
Harnesses will be marked by the manufacturer with information specific to it, such as warnings, serial/model number, capacity, and the materials used to make it.
Information such as proper use, maintenance, and inspections is typically provided in a manual written by the manufacturer.
What isn’t included is an expiration date. That is because the only people that can determine whether a harness is fit to wear or not is you or your supervisor, by conducting a thorough inspection.
OSHA does not stipulate a mandated expiry because it could lead to a false sense of security. For example, you may question the condition of your harness but upon reading the expiration date, you confirm it is good for another year; however, it is possible the harness is not safe to wear any longer.
A harness should be considered expired and removed from service when it fails a routine inspection, no matter how old it is. If a Harness is involved in a fall arrest, it also needs to be removed from service, until a competent person can inspect it. Even then, the safest choice is to destroy it.
8. How Often Does a Safety Harness Need to be Inspected and By Whom?
OSHA stipulates a personal fall protection system must be completed before initial use during each work shift. It does not say who specifically should conduct the inspection.
Industry best practice is to have the user conduct this ‘informal’ pre shift inspection and to have a competent person conduct a monthly formal inspection of all equipment.
You are the top person in charge of your own safety. Supervisors and employers also have responsibilities, but it is the choices you make that have the most impact on whether you make it home safe and sound at the end of the day.
A simple visual inspection, combined with touch and feel of the components of your harness before putting it on, could be the difference between life and death. If anything arises as a red flag or you are even remotely unsure about something, bring it up to your supervisor.
If your supervisor does not provide you with the information you require to feel safe and comfortable, you have the right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions.
Additionally on a monthly basis, every employer should conduct an inspection of all fall protection equipment, tracking the serial number on each piece and recording the results. Any pieces that fail any inspection, pre-shift or monthly, should be removed from service immediately.
How Harness Can Help
Harness is a safety management system that can help you conduct inspections and track which pieces of equipment are coming up for or due for inspection next. It eliminates paperwork, making the storage and retrieval of inspection results quick and easy for anyone with a mobile device or from the office computer.
We also offer a FREE Safety Harness Inspection App so all construction workers can properly inspect and document their safety harness before each use. Click the button below to try it out on any device!