What went wong: Harness safety inspections
By James Wong
By James Wong
Does your staff know how to perform a thorough checklist examination of fall-protection harnesses? I’ve seen several scenarios around workers using and doing harness checks. Some workers purchase their own. There are standard kits available that are pretty reasonably priced, but personalizing can get pricy depending on what you’re looking for. Some workers depend on the company to provide the harness, which can mean they are getting what you provide.
Harnesses can survive the trauma of a fall or run-over without the damage being visually apparent, so detailed checks are important. If you suspect a harness has experienced a trauma you should remove it from service due to “loss of faith.” It’s critical to perform a thorough inspection. A “quick look” inspection is not sufficient for the user’s safety because any small imperfection can lead to a malfunction. Those working at heights well know it’s not the time to discover a problem once you’re up there. With that in mind let’s go over the requirements for inspection.
The checklist is broken down into material sections. Let’s go through it.
Webbing and straps: Common webbing fabrics include nylon and polyester. Materials used for hazardous conditions like welding and arc flash exposure contain fire retardants and some type of grounding material. These straps secure every single part of the harness as well as the body. Any visible variations, even the smallest, can cause a malfunction.
D-Rings, buckles, adjusters and snap hooks: This hardware secures the functionality of the harness. Check for damage that distorts or defaces as well as any marks on any part of the hardware. Make sure springs aren’t sticking or jamming.
Stitching: The condition of the stitching on any part of the harness should always be flawless to support the worker in a fall and for fall restraint. There should be front and back stitching, both in perfect condition without frays and missing or loose stitches.
Lanyards and lifelines: The CSA standards for personal energy absorbers and lanyards were updated Feb. 1, 2020. The most important updates were in the instructions for use. The updated standard includes new information on the selection, use and lifespan of fall protection gear, especially energy-absorbing lanyards and horizontal lifelines. Manufacturers are now required to include a table, chart or graphic in equipment manuals illustrating the use of energy absorbers based on the user’s weight and free-fall distance. This illustration will specify the complete range of weights and distances permitted for the device. Along with all the checks mentioned in this article, ensure there is CSA information and check the spring tensions for retention and indicator activation.
Labels and markings: Labels and markings are records of the harness’ CSA testing to meet standards for safety and performance. Ensure the labels are securely held in place, that you can read the CSA markings and labels, and that the manufacturer’s in-service date is present. That’s the date the harness was made available for use, which also date stamps how old the harness is.
Harness capacity over 310 pounds is available, but not CSA-rated.
Suspension trauma is also known as harness hang syndrome. It occurs when the body is held upright without any movement. If a person is strapped into a harness or tied to an upright object, it will eventually cause fainting. The harness straps will stop the blood in the back-of-the-leg veins and block blood from going to the heart. This will eventually diminish oxygen to the brain, which is what causes the fainting. It is critical to have a rescue plan for suspension trauma. It can cause unconsciousness in 10 minutes and cause death in 15 to 40 minutes.
Working at heights without being properly trained and without being comfortable doing so can lead to serious injury and even death. While safe use of fall-arrest gear is your customer’s responsibility, not yours, you might feel better knowing you’ve done your part to educate them.
James Wong is an OHS Chief for the construction industry.