Falls are a severe issue in Canadian workplaces, costing serious harm to Canadian workers and tremendous costs to their employers. Over 42,000 workers are injured every year due to fall accidents, representing 18% of workplace “time-loss injuries.”
Safety harnesses can go a long way in protecting workers from injuries due to falling from heights. However, safety harnesses only work if you get the right one for the job. Here are some tips on buying the right safety harness.
Know the Basics
Safety harnesses come equipped with protections for vital areas, designed to shield workers from injuries due to falls from height. They do this by distributing force when the body comes to a full stop and covering vital areas such as the neck, groin and stomach. They will also keep the employee upright to facilitate work and protect the spine during a fall. To accomplish all of this, harnesses employ precisely positioned D-rings, which are the reinforced attachment point used to anchor a harness or connect it to lifelines, as well as padding and other features.
Consider Worker Comfort
To offer protection, your workers must wear their safety harnesses. While some may suffer through an uncomfortable harness, it may impact their work, and some workers may even be discouraged from wearing a harness if it's incredibly uncomfortable. Thus, comfort is a critical thing to consider when selecting a harness. Look for harnesses that provide good padding and an ergonomic fit. If workers wear the harness for long periods, invest in a harness that has extra padding. These are more costly but will sharply reduce discomfort and strain.
Ensure a proper fit for each worker. The harness should be snug but not too tight to guarantee a secure fit and limit the potential for injury. Finally, for work in hot conditions, consider a harness made of breathable material. This will improve worker comfort but also help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Understand the Regulations
Fall protection is required in most worksites, but there are also regulations that are specific to regions, occupations and jobs. Know the rules that govern your workplace when it comes to safety harnesses.
Choose the Right Harness for the Job
Selecting the right harness also means choosing the right harness for the specific work you, or your employees, are doing. There are several different types of safety harnesses, and each has a particular design and purpose. The overreaching purpose is to keep the wearer safe and allow them to do the work they need to do. The Canadian Standards Association lists five classes of full-body harnesses for working at heights, and each is geared to a different work purpose.
General or Fall Arrest Harnesses (Class A)
These types of harnesses, also known as compliance harnesses, are designed for infrequent use and to stay in compliance with regulations. Businesses might keep them on hand to perform routine maintenance in high spaces, such as repainting a ceiling. They are relatively inexpensive, easily replaced, and designed to support the body during and after a fall arrest. They will generally have a single D-Ring located on the back of the harness. They are not meant for confined spaces but are a good choice if your workers only use the harness for brief periods of time.
Suspension and Controlled Descent Harnesses (Class D)
These harnesses are designed to keep workers safe when they are raised or lowered vertically. For example, these are useful for suspended work positions, emergency self-evacuation, or rescue situations from cranes or buckets. They have two D rings, usually in the shoulder area. They may also feature extra padding around the seat area to provide additional comfort when raised or lowered.
Confined Space Entry and Retrieval Harnesses (Class E)
These types of harnesses are designed to facilitate the entry or rescue of workers in confined spaces such as maintenance holes, tanks, boilers or elevators. They have one back D-ring, and two shoulder D rings attached to snap hooks on a spreader bar which is then attached to a winch or lifeline. The positioning of these D-rings helps reduce the strain on the wearer’s body and helps keep them upright within the confined space.
Ladder Harnesses (Class L)
Designed for protecting workers who must use ladders in their work, the Class L harness has a single D-Ring in the chest area (sternum). These are required for anyone working more than three metres (10 feet) off the ground or when both hands are needed to do the work. Ladder harnesses tie off with a lanyard to an anchor, usually a permanent or temporary fixed support, existing structural features or equipment.
Work Positioning Harness (Class P)
The critical thing to remember about these harnesses is that they are not meant for fall arrest. They are designed to position workers who must work at heights, such as those who work on permanent ladders, rebar on construction sites or towers such as those used for hydro and other utilities. This harness has two D-rings on each side of the body at the hip level. These D-rings are designed to be used together as using one alone can destabilize the worker. This harness also requires a specific type of lanyard depending on the kind of job the worker is doing.
Harnesses for Specialty Applications
Depending on the work being performed, there are several specialty harnesses that may be a good choice. Arc Flash harnesses are usually made of Kevlar or Nomex and will protect a worker from burns during welding and grinding operations. For other jobs, there are high visibility harnesses, heavyweight harnesses and welding harnesses which do not fully resist heat but are nonconductive and flame-retardant.
Inspect Your Equipment Regularly
No matter what harness you purchase, inspect it regularly and replace obviously worn or defective harnesses. To make the process more streamlined and ensure you don't miss anything, consider creating an inspection checklist. Look for cut fibres or damaged stitches in the fabric. Flex the strap to ensure you can see any flaws, including cuts, frays and corrosion. Examine the friction buckle for slippage and sharp edges that can catch on a worker’s skin. Replace any harness parts that are excessively worn or appear stretched. Have your harnesses inspected at least yearly by trained personnel.
Buying the right harness is critical to the safety of your workplace. Make sure you buy one specific to the job you are performing, and that is comfortable for your workers and meets regulatory standards.