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Why Your Harness Must ALWAYS Fit Properly

  • Safety Resources

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Do you know what happens when a worker falls feet-first while his safety harness sub-pelvic strap is positioned too high, or his leg straps are too loose? The answer is unpleasant.

A properly positioned sub-pelvic strap would typically distribute the fall forces across the torso. However, in this case, the fall arrest will pull the leg straps up into the groin area with the full force of the fall. The 1,800-pound maximum arrest force that OSHA dictates for personal fall arrest systems is a car-crash-level amount of force channeling into the groin area through the leg straps.

Yes, it's just as painful and damaging as your mind is trying not to imagine.

Loose harness leg strap risk groin-1Loose harness leg strap risk groin-1

Sub-pelvic straps usually end up in the wrong place because the safety harness isn't the right size and/or isn't correctly fitted or adjusted for the user. Or it might be that the harness didn't fit comfortably, and the worker adjusted the fit to ease the discomfort, preventing proper fall arrest as a result.

As an employer and someone responsible for others' safety, it's your job to equip your team with full body safety harnesses that fit correctly and are comfortable to encourage proper use. Your company's Competent Person should know how to fit this equipment properly, spot improper use, and train your workers to use it safely. Failing to do so is negligent. It leaves your workers vulnerable to injury and your company open to litigation.

In this article, we'll identify the common hazards and bad practices that keep full body safety harnesses from arresting falls and doing their jobs properly to prevent injuries. You'll learn why a comfortable worker is safer, plus tips for finding harnesses that your team will wear correctly and consistently.

Table of Contents

What are the potential consequences of an improperly fitted harness?

Fall arrest bodywear has evolved from simple body belts to the full body safety harnesses used today. Manufacturers, including FallTech, have spent decades improving their designs' fit, comfort, and safety. The placement of every strap and buckle is intentional and used to provide maximum protection. harness-leg-straps-correct

For instance, your worker's full-body harness is designed to fit closely to their body. During a fall, this ensures the arrest force spreads across the entire body, primarily through the pelvis, rather than impacting a single point and possibly causing injury or worse.

A loosely fitting harness, however, will be arrested before the user wearing it, causing the worker's body to hit the harness straps with excessive force, potentially causing secondary injuries.

Think, for instance, of a seat belt in a car. Upon impact, your seat belt locks up to keep you in place and minimize the effects of the crash. However, if your seat belt is too loose, the impact will push you into the strap with greater force, just like what could happen with a loose-fitting harness. This small amount of excessive space between your body and the belt could result in more severe injuries, such as whiplash and contusions.

When properly fitted, full-body safety harnesses also ensure the fall arrest forces are distributed throughout the sturdiest parts of your body. This minimizes the stress on your body and the potential for post-fall injuries. Additionally, your workers may not wear their harnesses correctly if they don't fit comfortably. Users may loosen buckles, pull the sub-pelvic strap higher, or unbuckle the leg straps. They'll be more at ease, but they won't be safe.

A full-body harness will only perform correctly if every piece is in the right place. Even the most minor adjustments or misplacements can cause devastating workplace injuries.

What happens if my harness' sub-pelvic strap is in the wrong place?

The sub-pelvic strap is the most critical strap on a full-body harness. Unfortunately, it's also the one that is most commonly positioned incorrectly.

It should sit just under the buttocks when appropriately situated, allowing it to catch your weight correctly during a fall. You should be able to look through your legs and see the sub-pelvic strap hanging behind you after donning your harness. Always double-check its position before and after securing your leg straps.

In the correct position, this strap will transfer arrest forces through your pelvis and core. Too often, however, workers adjust this strap so it sits higher and isn't hanging loosely. In this position, all the pressure shifts to your leg straps during a fall. Your groin area then takes the brunt of the force, which has left many workers with severe injuries.

After a fall, a properly positioned sub-pelvic strap will allow you to move your legs around while you wait for rescue. This increases the blood flow to your legs and places your body in an optimal, predictable position for rescue. It also reduces the risk of suspension trauma. However, when the sub-pelvic strap is further up the back, the user can't get that crucial support and is in greater danger from suspension trauma.

Additionally, suspension trauma straps are easier to deploy when the sub-pelvic strap is properly positioned, which may further reduce your risk of suspension trauma. FallTech full body safety harnesses come with suspension trauma relief straps already installed, as seen on the FT-One and FT-Iron full body harnesses. 

What if the dorsal D-ring is too low?

Woman-wearing-ft-one-fit-harnessThe dorsal D-ring should always sit high at the center of your back and between your shoulder blades. This placement not only improves comfort but also keeps the arrest forces from overloading your body. Additionally, it puts your body in an ideal position for a predictable, prompt rescue and a lower risk of suspension trauma after the fall.

It is too low if the dorsal D-ring sits under your shoulder blades. You need to adjust the harness or find a better-fitting harness that is the right size. Also, the weight of your connector may pull the dorsal D-ring down throughout the day, so it's essential to adjust it periodically as well.

When your D-ring is too low, the arrest forces won't distribute equally across your body.
The impact can leave you with contusions or more severe injuries. You could also hang horizontally or face down after a fall has been arrested. This position increases the risk of secondary injury--and suspension trauma. It also makes rescue more difficult. Every additional minute in the harness leaves you more vulnerable to suspension trauma and potentially life-altering injuries.

Positioning the dorsal D-ring too high is a problem, too.

The D-ring or connectors may hit the back of your head when your lifeline arrests the fall, causing severe injuries. Finally, when the dorsal D-ring is too high, it can pull the chest strap into the worker's throat with significant force during and after a fall.

Typically, a back D-ring that sits too high indicates a faulty harness fit. Is the harness too big? Did you overtighten the sub-pelvic strap to make it fit, pulling the D-ring higher as a result? Be sure to check the overall fit and, if needed, find a better size.

Always ensure that the dorsal D-ring is situated properly before using your gear.

What if my chest strap is too high or too low? 

harness-high-chest-strapThe chest strap should always sit along your mid-chest. In a head-first fall, you may slip out of your harness if the chest strap is too low.

If it's too high, the strap will be pulled into the body at high levels of force when the safety gear arrests a fall. These forces may injure your neck, throat, or jaw. The strap might also pull up and into the person who fell's neck while waiting for rescue, possibly choking them.

Are there any risks to the employer?

Safety is your biggest concern, but it's not the only cost you must consider. Even in the best-case scenario, your company can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because of a workplace fall.

Equipping your employees with comfortable harnesses that they will wear properly isn't just a safety issue. It's a smart financial investment. 

Is it safe to loosen my harness at times to make it feel more comfortable? 

No, you should never loosen your body harness straps. Always ensure a proper fit.

If any part of the harness is loose, it won't control fall arrest forces in the way it was designed to. As mentioned, your body will endure a more violent fall arrest when you hit the straps that have already stopped moving, rebounding, or shifting.

At the same time, you don't want your straps to be too tight. An overly tight harness can restrict blood flow and may even cut off the circulation to some parts of your body. This increases your risk of suspension trauma and may speed up the onset of its symptoms.

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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