When working at height, fall prevention devices are always preferred. But sometimes, it’s not possible to install them at certain sites, and in these cases, fall-arrest devices are used, such as a safety harness for roofing work. Nevertheless, this has several disadvantages.
Operating Principle of a Safety Harness
A safety harness is a system of straps that wrap around the torso of the worker at height and stops a fall to prevent the worker from hitting the ground or an object when falling from height. The harness is attached to a lifeline, which is attached to a fixed support structure.
Safety Harnesses: Extra Management
The use of safety harnesses at construction sites implies not only providing training to workers but also a fairly involved management process from an administrative point of view. Unlike fixed systems, which involve very little maintenance, a safety harness requires the manager to:
- Ensure there are enough harnesses at each site
- Check the condition of the straps and whether buckles work properly on each harness before they are used
- Take damaged harnesses out of circulation to replace straps according to manufacturer’s instructions and dispose of those that are too damaged
- Clean harnesses to ensure proper operation and prolong their life
- Implement a comprehensive prevention plan to train staff to properly use fall prevention and protection devices. Employees may also need to take refresher courses.
A Heavy Burden of Responsibility for Workers
The use of safety harnesses is common when fall prevention devices cannot be installed at a site. As long as it’s adjusted correctly, a safety harness proves to be effective in case of a fall. Nevertheless, it presents several disadvantages and places a heavy burden of responsibility on workers at the construction site:
- Usually a one-size-fits-all device, it complicates fit, reduces comfort for smaller-sized people as well as very tall people, and cannot offer the same level of protection to everyone
- If the straps and various parts of the harness are not correctly fitted nor conform properly to the user’s body shape, it can cause injury in stopping a fall
- The location of the anchor points must be carefully chosen. The lanyard needs to have the right length to allow the material to stretch without letting the user hit the ground or another object. The harness as a whole must contribute to cushioning a shock because falling even a short distance exerts a considerable force on the user
- Fall-arrest devices can cause significant trauma due to the vertical suspension involved and may even lead to death. As it is critical to intervene in the moments immediately following a fall and often before help arrives, it is essential to assign only workers who have received practical training on rescue measures in addition to training on proper use of safety equipment.
To protect workers at height, it is best to install fall prevention devices rather than use fall-arrest systems. However, when the site does not allow for the former, it becomes necessary to turn to the latter, properly manage the equipment, and adequately train employees on its use.