Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths, with 351 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities, in 2020. Safety harnesses are specifically designed to keep workers secure at heights, in case of a major fall. But like all things, nothing is brand new forever. Time wears and tears down any material and harnesses are no exception. While there is no such thing as a predetermined or mandated expiration date on fall protection harnesses, a deteriorating harness seems like the opposite of a safety product.
OSHA does require employers to perform regular equipment inspections on lifelines, harnesses, lanyards, and SRL's to ensure that their gear is up to date and compliant with the proper safety standards. Fall protection equipment should be personally inspected before each use and at least once a year by a job site Competent Person (or more frequently if required by the manufacturer). Ritz Safety offers a Rental and Repair service as well as Training and Safety Seminars! Here’s what you needed to know while inspecting a safety harness.
For starters, how do things affect a fall protection harness’s useful lifespan? Despite just usage over time, some of the things that affect them adversely are:
Snagging on protruding objects that might cause tears to the harness’s fabric or stitching. This can cause a weak spot that could fail during a fall arrest.
Coating or saturation of paints and other chemicals can weaken the synthetic materials used in the webbing construction. Remove these materials as soon as possible, using the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid further deterioration.
Excessive exposure to UV rays or sunlight may cause deterioration or weakening of synthetic fibers. When the harness is not in use, store it away from sunlight.
Exposure to caustics and acids may deteriorate the metal components, such as the D-ring and buckles. Clean these items as soon as possible using approved methods.
Improper storage methods can damage the harness. The harness should be stored in a hanging position so that the webbing can “relax.” Hang the harness by the D-ring, not the webbing.
Any harness subjected to a fall arrest must be taken out of service immediately. Do not use the harness after the impact event. It must be labeled as unusable and removed from service until destroyed.
With this in mind, the wearer should inspect their equipment before each use. Furthermore, every piece of fall arrest equipment should be inspected and certified at least yearly or more often by a trained and competent person. Here are the five steps to follow in doing a formal inspection:
Inspect all webbing and stitching
Check for cuts, fraying, pulled or broken threads, abrasions, excessive wear, altered or missing straps, burns, UV damage, and heat and chemical exposures. Starting at one end of a webbing length, grasp the webbing with hands eight inches apart and flex the fabric. This can expose any defects not seen with the webbing in a straight alignment.
Inspect all metal or plastic components of the harness
All harness buckles should work freely, engaging and disengaging fully and smoothly. Depending on the model harness used, make sure each type of buckle, including a quick-connect buckle, is functioning properly.
Look for deformation, crack, corrosion, deep pitting or burrs, sharp edges, nicks or cuts, exposure to excessive heat or chemicals, and any other damage. Missing, loose or improperly working parts should be noted. This should include both metal and plastic components.
The D-ring should not be cracked, deformed, or otherwise damaged.
Inspect all load indicators
Load indicators are sections of the harness webbing that are folded over and stitched securely. Ripped stitching, even if only partially separated, is an indicator that the harness has been subjected to a fall and is no longer providing adequate protection. Remove the harness from service immediately. Mark it as unusable until such time as it can be destroyed.
Inspect all labels
To fully pass inspection, labels must be present and readable. Make sure the unique identifier for the harness is legible so that it can be marked properly on the log sheet.
Complete All Inspection Documentation
A formal inspection is not done until the paperwork is filled out. Create a log sheet if necessary, covering all the checkpoints for the harness used.
Many suppliers, like MSA Safety, can furnish a complete, fully itemized inspection log for each model they sell. Logs should have a place to enter condition codes, overall assessment scores, and room for the inspector to make comments.
Keep in mind that assessment doesn’t work on a sliding scale. The component, no matter what it is, gets a Pass or Fail rating. There is no in-between.