Just like every other product, fall protection equipment must be handled with care. But, different from everyday’s products, wearing the right equipment when working at height can mean a difference between life and death. So, in case a fall occurs it is critical that the equipment functions.
Safety harness user guide
A safety harness is an important part of fall protection equipment and when used or treated incorrectly, it can cause serious injuries or worse. In this article we want to present you a small user’s guide on how to use your safety harness, from pre-use check to the expiry date.
For your convenience we have split up this blog in five different sections:
- Expiry dates
- Other (safety harness) related questions
Just as every piece of fall protections PPE, your safety harness needs to be inspected before each use. This is called a pre-use check. This may seem like a tiresome activity for some, but it should be an essential part of your daily routine and something that can save your life in the event of a fall! For a pre-use check, please follow the instructions of the manufacturer. If you don’t know enough about the wearing of a safety harness, ask for assistance or training.
- Pass each section of the webbing by hand, while looking for small cuts, tears, cuts, deformations, discoloration and chemical damage (like stains or hardening).
- Check all connectors, straps and rings for cracks, rust or excessive wear.
- Check the label for an individual serial number, inspection date and manufacturing date. Is the inspection date more than a year ago, then the harness needs a written confirmation that if the safety harness is in good condition it is ready to be used again.
- Check if the buckles and belts properly connect and don’t show any signs of deformation.
Conduct the visual inspection in good lighting, it should take less than a couple of minutes to complete, but should never be rushed.
Why is the inspection date of 12 months on the full body safety harness so important?
Fall protection PPE regulations require a minimum of 12 monthly inspections which should be recorded on the harness itself by means of an inspection sticker or such (unless the product is less than 12 months old).
Too often, when a workers shift is finished, fall protection harnesses get folded and tossed in a bag, in the back of a van or pushed in an already full locker. Even worse, harnesses can be found anywhere in a workplace after work, exposed to damaging elements and equipment lying around.
Where to store my safety harness?
Keep your safety harness stored in a clean, well-ventilated, dust free and dry place.
How to store my safety harness?
Make sure your harness is hung and check if there are no (sharp) objects, power tools or chemicals touching the harness while it hangs. Shield the harness from direct sunlight or heat sources, too much exposure to (ultraviolet) light or heat, can cause materials to break down and eventually fail. Third, make sure nobody has access to your personal harness, somebody can use, adjust or damage your harness while you are unaware of this.
Just like your work clothes, a safety harness can get dirty while performing tasks. There are environments which speed up this process, like for example confined spaces and heavy industrial environments. Harnesses require maintenance and care to ensure their optimal functionality.
Do I need to clean my safety harness?
Short answer, yes. This is mainly to remove substances from the harness and furthermore, a clean harness is easier to inspect than a dirty one.
How often do I need to clean my fall protection safety harness?
This depends in which environment you work and how dirty a harness gets after every shift. The right answer should be: regularly. If the harness is too dirty to do a thorough (visual) inspection, it is definitely time to clean your equipment.
How do I clean my safety harness?
There are multiple suggestions online on how to clean a safety harness. Before cleaning a harness, check if there are cleaning instructions from the manufacturer available. If those instructions are not available, most harnesses can be cleaned in a general way, using the following steps.
- Step 1) Use a wet sponge and remove all surface dirt for the harness. Use plain water.
- Step 2) Squeeze the sponge dry and soak it in a solution of soap/detergent and water*.
- Step 3) Clean the harness with strong strokes up and down. Make sure to clean the entire harness fabric, D-rings, buckles and straps.
- Step 4) Wipe it down with a clean cloth
- Step 5) Hang safety harness to dry in a well-ventilated environment, away from direct sunlight or a heat source**.
* Do NOT use chlorine, bleach or abrasives to clean your safety harness!
** NEVER use an electrical or gas powered tool to dry your safety harness or other fall protection PPE!
Can I clean my harness by machine washing?
Yes you can, but machine washing may lead to softening of the webbing and ropes, damage to the fibers, fading and definitely reduces the lifespan of a harness. It can be done, in mesh laundry bags, at the right temperature and washing conditions, but we prefer the hand wash method as described above. Therefore we do not recommend cleaning safety harnesses by washing machine.
Can I machine dry my safety harness?
Absolutely not! Machine drying may harm the webbing and fibers and compromise the safety of the harness.
Just as any piece of equipment or clothing, there comes a time that your safety harness needs to be replaced.
Does legislation set an expiry date on fall protection PPE products (including safety harnesses)?
No, for example ANSI and OSHA maintain that it is up to the manufacturer to set the shelf life (“life expectancy”) for their products. For most safety harnesses this means a lifespan from 5 to 7 years***, from the date of first use. This said, always take local rules and regulations into account, before drawing a conclusion.
*** The life span of a safety harness is mainly influenced by the frequency of use and the environmental circumstances.
Do safety harnesses have an expiry date?
Most fall protection safety harnesses no longer have a mandatory expiry date, however this depends from manufacturer to manufacturer. To increase the harnesses timespan, harnesses require care, maintenance and the right storage conditions. A malfunction of a harness could have severe consequences and therefore needs to be inspected before every use by a competent person, and more thoroughly, once a year.
What to do with a fall protection harness that is exposed to a fall arrest?
Immediately withdraw this harness from use. According to both OSHA and EN regulations, a competent person must check the harness after a fall and confirm in writing if the safety harness is in good condition to be used again.
Does my harness require inspection besides a pre-use check?
As a safety harness is part of fall protection equipment, it needs to be inspected annually by a competent person. This person is trained and certified for checking, maintaining and approving fall protection PPE products by a certain manufacturer. Generally a harness can last for more than five years, if this competent person approves in writing that a harness is in good condition and is ready to be used again. This can be done with a harness inspection form.
When to replace a safety harness?
This depends on the functionality, type of harness and other factors. You can read an extensive article on this subject, titled “When to replace a full body safety harness?”
Can I write my name on my safety harness?
Bad idea! The chemicals in the marker can lead to weaknesses in the harnesses fibers, which could result in fatal injury when a fall is arrested. Writing on any part of a safety harness can compromise the harnesses integrity.