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Does Harness Size Really Matter?

  • Safety Resources

Full body safety harnesses fit your body in specific ways on purpose. Their design distributes fall-arrest forces across your whole body, giving your team enough time to rescue you before suspension trauma occurs.

If you or one of your workers uses a too-big or too-small harness, it may perform incorrectly during a fall. Moreover, there isn't a "good enough" fit for a safety harness. If it does not fit correctly, don't wear it.

Keeping your team safe means finding a harness that properly fits each individual.

Table of Contents

Is using a harness that's too big for my body safe?

A harness too big for your body can increase your risk of secondary injuries after a fall. It won't fit snugly on your body if it's too big. When your lifeline arrests a fall, your harness will yank upward, creating several dangerous problems. It's important to know the risks and consequences of an improperly fitted harness.

These dangers may include:

  • Injuries to your neck, throat, or jaw, including being choked, if the chest strap moves upward.
  • Falling out of the harness if the chest strap is too low.
  • Contusions where your body (still moving down) hits harness straps that have already been arrested or been pulled up.
  • Increased fall distance that was not accounted.
  • Injuries to your head if the dorsal D-ring shifts upward.
  • Increased vulnerability to suspension trauma if the fall pulls the sub-pelvic strap up your back rather than under the buttocks.

Never wear a too-big full body safety harness or one that fits loosely on your body. If you can't adjust the straps to make it fit closely and comfortably, you should find a different harness with a better fit.

What are the pros and cons of a universal fit full-body safety harness?

Universal-harness-tagSome full-body harnesses come in universal sizes. Rather than offering individual-size products, some manufacturers provide harnesses that you can adjust smaller or larger sizes to a range of sizes (universal sizes).

For instance, a manufacturer may offer a harness in five individual sizes that include small (S), medium (M), large (L), extra-large (XL), and extra-extra-large (XXL). Another might limit their products to three sizes: XS-S, universal, and XXL.

Universal sizing is neither good nor bad, but there are pros and cons that you should consider before choosing this style.

Pro: They can adjust to fit most people’s bodies

As you might expect, universal sizes are for a wide range of people. Many workers who are average height and weight for their size can use these harnesses with some adjustments.

Pro: You can find different styles for different bodies 

There are dozens of different universally sized harnesses available. You may find a harness that works for every employee with some research.

Pro: It's easier to pick universal sizes

Universal sizes may be a convenient option when buying multiple fall arrest safety harnesses for your team. Each harness, in general, might fit more people than an individual size. This is great for organizations that share harnesses and don't issue them to individual employees.

Con: It’s harder to get the right fit for everyone 

That said, universal harnesses don't fit every worker. If some people on your team are wearing harnesses that don't fit them well, they may not be as safe as they should be.

Refrain from assuming everyone on your team can use these products safely when purchasing your fall protection equipment. A universal harness that properly fits a worker who is 5'8", for example, may not fit someone else who is 6'1". (Keep in mind that height isn't the only factor.)

Instead, research to find better options for individuals who need specific sizes. You can also contact our fall protection experts to save time and ensure you find the best-fitting safety harnesses for your team.

Why are some harnesses dual-sized or single-sized?

small-medium-dual-size-harness-tag-mediumDual sizes are similar to universal sizes. You might find a dual-sized harness in a small/medium size rather than both a small and a medium harness. Dual-sized harnesses can be adjusted to fit different-sized users who wear either size.

Single-sized harnesses are instead explicitly made for one individual size.

Generally, manufacturers who offer universal sizing will have a more limited range of options. They may not provide single-sized options for their harnesses. Manufacturers who use dual sizing may offer more individual sizes as well.

Why does the harness size not match my shirt size?

Shirts and harnesses use different factors to determine size.

A shirt manufacturer is only concerned with your upper body. They use neck, arm, chest, and torso measurements to determine the dimensions for each size. Full-body safety harness manufacturers, however, consider your whole body's height, weight, and shape.

Full-body safety harnesses must fit snugly to the body for safety. Shirts are often designed to have a looser fit.

For these reasons, your harness size is likely different than your shirt size. Check the manufacturer's sizing information before purchasing a harness to ensure it will fit correctly.  

Can I wear any fall protection harness and trust it will keep me safe?

Fall protection harnesses aren’t one-size-fits-all, including those in universal sizes. If you want your fall safety gear to fit everyone correctly, you must choose the right product for each person’s size, shape, application, and work.

That means each worker should have a specific harness that they use every time it’s needed. Rather than having your team pick a random harness out of a box or locker, help them find fall protection gear that properly fits each person.

When selecting full-body safety harnesses, consider comfort to encourage consistent, proper use. In addition, look for harness options that don’t cause the workers to sweat and feel hot or too heavy, reducing the worker’s stamina and causing fatigue.

The full-body safety harnesses you select should also be intended for the type of work your team does. For example, if welding is a task that certain workers do, choosing a harness specially designed for this is crucial.

Look for harnesses that give workers freedom of movement. The harness shouldn’t hurt or restrict them as they work.

Additional factors to consider include:
  • Workplace environment 
  • Indoors vs outdoors 
  • Workplace temperature 
  • Equipment weight 
  • Type of work 
  • Arc flash protection 
  • Hot work/welding applications 
  • Worker size, particularly if they are larger or smaller than the average worker 

Don't compromise safety: Find the best full body harness for you and your team.  FallTech full body harnesses are designed by specialists to the highest standard and made proudly in the USA. For help choosing the right full body harnesses for your team, reach out to FallTech's fall protection experts at 800-719-4619 or use the Contact Us form on the right.

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