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PFAS, or Personal Fall Arrest Systems, are life saving devices. Indeed, these rigorously tested and tried ropes and body harnesses are the most relied upon line of defense against falls and serious injury, even fatal accidents on the jobsite. In fact, the most common cause of personal injury among construction workers is falling at the construction site. The risks are inherent in this line of business. Looking at South Carolina in 2019, SCOSHA reported that public construction accounted for 14.8% of the year’s fatal injuries, making construction the fourth highest industry for serious personal risk in South Carolina.
Industry professionals and organizations like OSHA recognize the strong need for safety equipment in the construction workforce. PFAS have seen a great deal of reform to their construction and design in the past decades. Research has shown the drawbacks of older ‘belt’ body harness PFAS. The single belt body harness design did not allow the straps to distribute the force of the fall on the worker’s body, resulting in greater injury to the midsection, as well as whiplash and spinal injuries. Modern body harnesses like Falltech 7015 Contractor 1D Standard Non-belted Full Body Harness make use of several straps around the worker’s shoulders, chest, and legs. These straps brace the worker for impact: the force is distributed to their chest, shoulders, pelvis, and thighs, keeping soft tissue areas like the stomach, neck, and groin better protected from injury. Falltech’s body harness follows OSHA regulation to limit the max arresting force to 1800lbs, while keeping the employee vertical to prevent injury to their spine.
A variety of harnesses are available for specific job functions, as well as sizes. While harnesses are adjustable, harnesses come in a range of sizes. Harnesses should fit snuggly but not tight, without restricting movement or circulation, which would pose a major risk at the jobsite. Manufacturers recommend fitting your harness so that a flat hand can fit between your lower strap and leg; no more, no less. The chest strap should also fit securely around the chest: loose chest straps pose a risk of employees falling out of the body harness altogether, making them redundant. Accurate sizing matters greatly.
Also, consider the type of work being done when purchasing your harness. Harnesses exist for safety and to free up employee’s hands, however if the work requires the worker to frequently reposition himself, choose a body harness with a front facing D-ring where the line will be attached for easy access. Standard body harnesses place the D-ring between the shoulder blades, making it difficult for workers to remove their lines without assistance. For high heat work, like welding or first responders, employees should wear harnesses made with fire retardant materials such as Kevlar. On the other hand, for work done in colder temperatures, purchase a specifically designed winter harness with padding and insulation. A standard body harness worn with winter gear can damage the harness materials as well as interfere with the D-ring. And should your employees need to be highly visible, consider harnesses with reflective straps.
It is important to note, however, that emergency harnesses are not the same functionally as rock-climbing harnesses. This is a common misconception. Sport harnesses are designed to allow the wearer to remain suspended for extended periods of time, but standard safety body harnesses, like those used on construction sites, are made for emergency use only. A suspended employee must be assisted immediately. Safety body harnesses can cut off circulation while the wearer is suspended resulting in a deadly condition called ‘suspension trauma’. Specially made harnesses with a cradle seat exist for work where the employee must be suspended for an extended period. Do note the harness you need for your specific work, as any harness can be harmful if used incorrectly.
These body harnesses were designed for emergency use and are used widely across constructions sites and by first responders. However, PFAS do see a great deal of use on the job. It is imperative to inspect harnesses before each use, especially after an unexpected fall. Use of harnesses over time can result in stretching the material, tears, or deformations, and therefore reduces the durability and effectiveness of the safety device. Inspect the stitching on the harness: the small stitches that hold a harness together can be damaged by age, chemicals on the job site, and abrasion. Damaged harnesses should be repaired to standard or disposed of.
There are three simple steps for proper and safe use of body harnesses according to OSHA recommendations:
The lifetime of the harness should also be considered. The average lifetime of a contractor grade body harness is estimated to be around 5 to 7 years, depending on material, use, and storage conditions. And unused harness has a shelf life of around 7 years before the harness may be replaced by designs with updated standards. When it comes to PFAS, a new harness is always a great investment in your workforce’s safety.