Falls from height are serious and safety managers need to give careful consideration as to how they select, maintain and replace workers’ personal fall protection equipment. Below, key steps in the selection of full body harnesses are discussed. Whilst the EN 361: 2002 standard relates to a full body harness, note that there are other EN standards to consider for wider fall arrest equipment.
A harness is the main component of a personal fall arrest system. It is designed to support the body when a fall is arrested by distributing the forces generated by the fall and suspending the worker ‘head up’ while awaiting recovery or rescue.
Front or Rear Attachment Point?
The basic full body harness is designed with a single attachment point, positioned between the shoulder blades (dorsal).
This would typically be used with a retractable fall arrest device or lanyard to provide fall arrest protection. It is ideal for the worker who needs to operate with equipment in front of them, or who is using cutting tools that could compromise the safety of the intermediate connection. It is not ideal when using personal fall arrest systems to protect workers climbing ladders. Harness adjustment is generally via leg straps only, meaning a limited fitting range which may not be suitable for all body shapes and sizes.
A more advanced option involves the inclusion of front attachment points.
These are often designed to be used in pairs (check the user instructions), or sometimes as a single connection point in the middle of the chest (positioned at the sternum and referred to as a ‘sternal’ point). This connection point is better suited for use with ladder climbing systems, allowing for a short, direct connection to the harness. The harness adjustment function now expands to include chest or shoulder points that enable a greater morphology range for users.
A further evolution to this is possible, adding more technical access equipment and techniques to be used by the climber or worker.
Up to now, the focus has been on protecting a worker from falls. More advanced harnesses allow a worker to position themselves at a workstation with hands-free support and include comfort features, such as a waist pad.
The waist pad is attached to the harness and incorporates side-D rings and equipment storage points. The worker would typically use a work positioning lanyard for this function. Note: that the worker must still retain a fall arrest connection when using the work positioning equipment.
Duration of Use
It is recommended you select equipment that affords a high degree of comfort in use. Equipment chosen on price alone will limit on-site usage compliance, ultimately leading to safety process breakdown. Textile options are available, for example, polyamide (nylon), polyester (or both together in the same material) and the addition of elastic woven into the webbing to provide ‘stretch’. Kevlar is very heat resistant (> 500°C) but has virtually no elasticity and provides a fantastic solution for contact with hot materials up to 177°C (351°F). This is an ideal solution for workers involved in cutting operations where sparks regularly fly and land, melting standard webbing, typically on the leg loops. Harnesses affected by this type of damage would be rendered unserviceable.
Good quality harnesses worn for extended periods, i.e. all day, every day, used correctly, and maintained well will last much longer in ‘normal’ conditions than a budget, compliance harness.
Correct fitting is vital as loose leg loops may be comfortable while walking around on the ground, but dangerous in a fall. Dorsal connections must not be lower than the centre of the shoulder blades to prevent excessive slippage in ‘fall arrest’ and sternal connections should be level with the sternum. EN361 testing requires a harness to hold a suspended worker in a head-up position at a maximum angle of 50° from vertical. A badly adjusted attachment point could prevent this and increase the chance of medical complications such as an occluded airway.
Ensure that all users of the equipment have the correct size for their body shape and have been trained to use it effectively.
All harnesses require an element of hardware in the form of buckles and D-rings. The buckles need to be easy to connect and not become damaged or unusable in normal working conditions. Mating buckles are simple in operation; however, they lack ease of fastening and adjustment, whereas automatic buckles are more expensive, but provide excellent functionality and assist with compliance.
Buckles are often also the webbing adjustment point, which means the webbing will need to be tensioned through the buckle during fitting. A damaged metal buckle can lead to damaged webbing making the harness unsuitable for use.
Emergence Equipment Compatibility
Ensure the new harness and any ancillary equipment can be used with the on-site rescue system and confirm a method of attaching a fallen climber is available. This would also be a good opportunity to practice the site rescue plan(s) and confirm all workers know exactly what to do in an emergency.
The ergonomics of a worker at height will help decide the required connection points. This means an assessment of access methods and work processes should be carried out to assist with the equipment selection task.
Not all harnesses are the same – carefully consider all workers’ needs, environments and the other factors described in this paper when choosing the right harnesses for different applications. The service life of a harness can vary greatly depending on factors, such as how often the harness is worn and the working conditions, so be sure to perform inspections prior to each use. Robust safe systems of work rely on good equipment that is used correctly.