Using a fall arrest system and safety harness correctly - Pro Construction Guide
Using a fall arrest system and safety harness correctly

Using a fall arrest system and safety harness correctly

Using a fall arrest system and safety harness correctly

Trusting a fall arrest system and safety harness to protect you without knowing if you’re using it correctly could be deadly.

If you work more than 6 feet above a lower level, you are required by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to use a personal fall arrest system  and safety harness (PFAS). According to OSHA’s fall protection systems regulations, your employer is required to provide a personal fall arrest system  and safety harness and to teach you how to use it.

Don’t tether without training

Trusting a fall arrest system and safety harness to protect you without knowing if you’re using it correctly could be deadly. Don’t assume you know how it works unless you’ve been trained on the specific system you’re using. Incorrect use of any single component undermines the system and can cause it to malfunction.

Inspect the fall arrest system and safety harness carefully

When you’re confident that you know how to use the fall arrest system and safety harness, carefully inspect the harness. Remember, you’re counting on this to save your life if you fall. Check every strap, buckle, plastic fitting and grommet for wear. There should be a tag on the harness that tells you when the harness was last inspected by your company’s ‘qualified person’, as defined by OSHA. When you’re satisfied everything is in perfect condition, you can put it on.

Grab the D-ring that goes in the middle of your back and let the harness dangle. With the harness in that position, you can easily see where the shoulder, chest and leg straps are. Step into the leg straps, pull the shoulder straps over your shoulders and connect the chest strap.

Wear the harness correctly

Safety harnesses are carefully designed to absorb the forces on your body that occur during a fall, distributing those forces so that the fall can be safely arrested. But that only works if the harness is worn correctly.

Have someone verify you’re wearing the safety harness correctly. Is the D-ring in the center of your back at shoulder blade height? Are any of the straps twisted? Is the chest strap tight enough to hold you in the harness if you fall?

Are the leg straps adjusted correctly? Leg straps that are too loose can pull upward in a fall, causing severe injury. Too tight and they can cut off circulation. You’ll know the leg straps are adjusted correctly if you can slide an open hand between the strap and your leg, but not a closed fist.

Once correctly adjusted, tuck the ends of straps into the provided fasteners.

Don’t use a body belt

Your PFAS must include a full-body harness. OSHA prohibits use of body belts as part of a fall arrest systems

Choose your anchor point wisely


OSHA requires the anchor point for your PFAS be capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached. Always look for an anchor point that is at least level with your D-ring.

The anchor should be rigid and should not have a deflection greater than .04 inches when a force of 2,250 pounds is applied. Most important is to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly or consult you company’s qualified person when installing anchors to ensure they are strong enough to hold the sudden weight of a falling worker.

Choose the lanyard and rope wisely

A lanyard connects your body harness to a safety rope and the rope is connected to the anchor. You’ll probably be using a shock-absorbing lanyard, which typically limits the arresting force from a 6-foot drop to less than 900 pounds.

Shock-absorbing lanyards use a “shock pack” that deploys to absorb the momentum of a fall.

To determine the lanyard you need, add the height of the worker, maximum free fall distance of 2 feet, maximum deceleration distance of 3½ feet and a safety factor of 3 feet. That sum should not be greater than the distance from the surface the worker is standing on to the next level.

According to OSHA, safety ropes must be made of man-made fibers, such as nylon, not hemp. However, the safety rope can be a commercially available product, like a climbing rope.

Management of the rope length is more convenient when using a commercially available rope-catch. This allows you to go to various positions on the job, but the total length of the rope plus the lanyard must still arrest a fall before the person contacts the next surface.

A rope trailing over the job is a potential trip hazard. One solution is to use a retractable rope system that functions like a car seat belt. An inertia lock stops the belt in a fall.

–By Pam Sturgess

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