The concept of preventing falls while performing work through the use of personal fall protection is nothing new. Sailors working in rough seas and carpenters building colossal churches centuries ago were known to tie ropes around their waists to prevent them from falling. However, until as recently as the nineteen seventies, no one required fall protection for the American worker. The introduction of OSHA turned this table and now employers are required to protect their workers from fall hazards. As with any type of PPE, harnesses and lanyards must be a last resort for fall protection. It must first be determined if the fall hazard can be eliminated by constructing guardrails, covering openings, blocking access to unprotected areas, etc. However, some tasks must be performed where such protective measures are not feasible. In such cases fall protection, many times in the form of safety harnesses and lanyards, must be used. Also, they must be worn and used correctly.
If it has been determined that the employee needs to wear a harness and lanyard, they must first be trained in how to use and inspect this critical piece of personal safety equipment.
Prior to putting on any harness, it must be inspected. Not just the new employee, but the employee who has been wearing the same harness and lanyard since the job started. Yes, this means all harness users must perform a daily inspection. Harnesses may have been damaged while performing hot work or while working near tasks that generate sparks or heat. Chemicals and sharp edges can also damage harnesses and lanyards to a point that they may not have the sufficient strength to hold a worker in the event of a fall. What happened to that equipment since you removed it on the previous day or previous shift? Was the harness and lanyard stored properly to prevent damage, or was it thrown into a gang box with other equipment such as saws, drills, and spare blades that could cut the webbing?
Check the nylon webbing on both the harness and lanyard for frayed edges, pulled stitches, cuts, or chemical damage. A harness or lanyard that has been damaged by chemicals or even ultraviolet rays from the sun may be discolored.
Next, look at the buckles and snap hooks. Look for sharp edges and discoloration of the metal. Check to ensure the grommets in the belt are not loose or contain sharp edges. And by no means, do you ever punch a hole in the webbing to create an additional hole.
Remember only double locking snap hooks are allowed as a means to connect the lanyard to the harness and anchor point. Check to see that the latches on the hooks close completely and do not stick in the open position. Also be sure to check the “D” ring. Make sure it is not bent or distorted and has no evidence of pits or chemical corrosion.
Once it has been determined that the equipment is in good condition, it is time to put on the harness. First of all make sure the harness is the correct size. The manufacturer will provide guidance on the size of harness needed. This is normally determined by weight and height of the user. When harnesses are purchased, it must be considered that one size does not fit all! Harnesses should fit snug, but not tight. If the harness is too loose, the user may actually slip out of the harness or the webbing could slide up the user’s body creating additional shock forces on the body in the event of a fall. If the harness is too tight, it could affect the user’s circulation, or will just be very uncomfortable making it less likely that the harness will be worn. A good rule of thumb is that the user should only be able to get two fingers between the harness and his or her body.
The location of the “D” ring is also very important. After the user has properly tightened the leg and chest straps, the “D” ring should be located between the user’s shoulder blades. If it is not, it can be adjusted somewhat. However it may also be that the harness is too big and the user needs to drop down a size. In some work applications, the user must bend over quite often to perform the assigned task. This can cause the “D” ring to slide down the back. Harnesses must be checked and adjusted throughout the day to ensure they are worn correctly. In the event a fall is arrested, it is critical that the user is in an upright position. Proper location of the “D” ring will help ensure this occurs.
Finally, when using a harness and lanyard for fall protection, the fall distance must be calculated. A typical shock absorbing lanyard is six feet in length. It will stretch out an additional three and a half feet when subjected to a fall, reducing the shock to the body but increasing the fall distance. The harness itself may also stretch approximately one foot. The distance from the workers feet to his “D” ring is approximately five feet. And to be safe, include a three foot safety factor. When you add them up, what does this mean? When using a six foot lanyard with a safety harness, the employee must be working at a height of eighteen and a half feet to be considered safe. If the employee is not working at this height, an alternative means of fall protection such as a retractable or perhaps a shorter lanyard must be implemented.