Full-body harnesses are critical elements of effective fall protection systems. Workers must understand how to properly wear and use full-body harnesses when operating at height. A properly fitted and properly worn full-body harness can help prevent serious injury or death when used correctly on the job.
The recently updated ANSI/ASSP Z359.11-2021 standard establishes requirements for the performance, design, marking, qualification, instruction, training, test methods, inspection use, maintenance and removal from service of full-body harnesses.
“The main purpose of Z359.11 is to act as a standard to drive best-in-class harnesses through rigorous design and test requirements,” says Z359.11 subcommittee chair Rob Willis, “in addition to having requirements for manufacturers to create an ANSI-approved full-body harness.”
Z359.11 defines a full-body harness as “a body support designed to contain the torso and distribute the fall arrest forces over at least the upper thighs, pelvis, chest and shoulders.”
“It’s the piece of PPE that connects the user to the entire fall protection system and is the most personal piece of PPE,” Willis explains.
This update to Z359.11 includes revisions and new requirements, including:
- A modified, headfirst, dynamic test procedure
- New stretch-out requirements for frontal connections
- Alternative fall arrest indicator testing and new label requirements
- Allowance for harnesses with integrated energy absorbers
- Changes to labeling requirements
In addition, Z359.11 now requires harness label packs to have pictograms showing the approved usage of different connections and diagrams explaining the difference between deployed and non-deployed visual load indicators.
Harnesses can also now be ANSI compliant when they have an integral (permanently attached) energy absorber on the back D-ring. The revisions to test procedures improve the safety of lab workers and allow for innovation in design for harnesses that use frontal connections.
“Z359.11 will give you a level of confidence that when you buy an ANSI-rated harness, it has certain design requirements and has gone through very rigorous testing,” Willis says. “It provides good insight into what goes into harness designs and helps you understand the factors of safety built into these harnesses.”
If you use full-body harnesses on your work sites, Willis says to remember the two Fs — function and fit. These two elements are essential to ensuring that workers have the right harness for their task and that the harness fits them properly.
“Safety professionals and end users need to think about the application where the harness will be used,” Willis explains. “There are many different applications that have different types of harnesses, so it’s important to realize that it’s not just one harness for all types of work.”
Specific full-body harnesses are designed for different working environments. For example, confined space harnesses have should be designed and constructed so that, in the event of a rescue, the rescue subject is securely held and suspended during the rescue process. Harnesses used in welding operations are different, with back D-rings serving as the main fall arrest attachment points. Willis says you may want to partner with harness manufacturers to find the right harnesses for your applications.
“There's a tool for every job and harnesses are no different,” Willis continues. “The reason the application is important is that sometimes the application will dictate part of the harness design.”
Once you have the appropriate harnesses for your work applications, you must ensure that those harnesses fit workers properly. Issues can arise from improperly fitted harnesses and create hazards.
“If I had one piece of advice that would make the most impact across the industry, it would be to ensure that your team has been properly fitted for a harness and that they know how to don one,” he explains. “If someone is uncomfortable in their PPE, they are less likely to use it and they will be unproductive. More critically, an improperly worn harness may not work as intended in a fall event.”
If a harness is not worn properly, webbing could cinch up in the event of a fall and cause bodily harm. Harnesses that aren’t properly adjusted can cause the webbing to loosen, making the user uncomfortable and causing personal fall limiters or self-retracting devices to fall further down a user’s back.
Willis notes that full-body harness manufacturers typically have sizing charts for initial guidance on fitting based on a worker’s height and weight. He encourages end users to try on multiple harnesses before work begins to ensure the best and most comfortable fit.