Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, period. In 2017 alone, there were 381 fatalities caused by falls out of the total 971 fatalities arising out of the construction industry according to OSHA. Please, don’t see these statistics as numbers. These “numbers” are people just like you and I, people who went to work and didn’t get to go home.
It is clear that falls can kill, so why does OSHA allow a fall of six feet? Think about this, if an average man were to fall six feet and endured a sudden stop, the forces applied to his body would be nearly 5,000 pounds. That is easily enough to guarantee serious injury and possibly even death. To combat this force, harnesses and lanyards are designed in such a way that the arresting force meets OSHA’s allowable 1,800-pound maximum force. However, most shock packs limit the force to only 900 pounds, half of that set by OSHA. Because of the forces harnesses and lanyards encounter should a fall occur it is extremely important to ensure they are in good working condition.
Harnesses and lanyards should be inspected annually by a competent person. OSHA designates a competent person as: “One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them” [29 CFR 1926.32(f)]. Annual inspections must be documented on the harness or lanyard on the inspection tag. Annual inspections are a great way to ensure safety, but the individuals using the harness and lanyards should conduct a brief visual inspection before each use. When harnesses and lanyards, one should use the following guidelines:
Harness Tag and Lanyard Tag
- Must be present and legible and contain the following information, remove from service if missing information:
- Name/brand of harness or lanyard
- Harness/lanyard model
- Harness/lanyard serial number
- Date of manufacture
- Weight capacity
- Warnings and other limitations set forth by the manufacturer
If load/shock indicators on harnesses or lanyards indicate a load has been applied immediately remove from service.
Harness and Lanyard Material (webbing) – visual and touch inspection, remove from service if the following issues are identified.
- Cuts or abrasions
- Broken, cracked or worn fibers
- Overall deterioration
- Modifications made by the user
- Hard or shiny spots caused by chemicals, hot work splatter, or excessive soiling
- Missing material
- Burnt or charred spots
- Mildew, dry rot and over exposure to UV rays causing excessive fading
- Pulled or unwound stitching
- Missing stitching
- Dry rotted/mildew covered stitching
- Discolored stitching from UV damage
- For steel cable lanyards look for the following:
- Rust and corrosion
- Raised wire strands
- Broken strands
- Excessive soiling
- Bends or kinks
- Unwound strands (bird caging)
Harness and Lanyard Hardware – visual and touch inspection, remove from service if the following issues are identified.
D-rings, Grommets, Buckles, Snap Hooks, Carabiners and the Housing (SRL)
- Rust or corrosion
- Deformation (bends or twists)
- Cracks or other signs of metal fatigue
- Modifications made by the user
- Roller and tongue buckles are functioning
- Springs have tension and are functioning
- Missing hardware
- Housing completely closed (no splitting)
- Locking mechanism functions and lanyard fully retracts into the housing
- Snap hooks and carabiners test proofed to a minimum of 5,000lbs
- Gates on snap hooks and carabiners test proofed to at least 3,600lbs
- Snap hooks/carabiners are equipped with a self-closing and self-locking gate.
Hopefully the information I have listed above provide some guidance for the necessity of harness and lanyard inspections. If you have further questions about the subject matter, please see the standards set forth by OSHA: 29 CFR 1926.502 (construction) and 29 CFR 1910.140 (General Industry).
Alex Paul Lhotsky