Ergonomic Considerations for Fall Harnesses When Working at Height
Comfort level is an important variable to address when wearing PPE, especially fall harnesses.
- By Marc Dudelzak
- Dec 08, 2020
Workers who spend a great deal of time working at height depend on their fall protection PPE harnesses. They want their gear to be comfortable and lightweight, not hot and heavy. Some harnesses can claim they are lighter weight, but that doesn’t always equate to comfort, especially for workers of varying shapes and sizes. Let’s explore some of the things that can make fall protection harnesses more comfortable, lighter weight and easily incorporated with other PPE.
Since “falls from height” rank first in cause of death for the construction industry, it’s critical that workers are appropriately protected. These features will make it easier for workers to be compliant by encouraging them to wear their gear properly and keep themselves and the jobsite safe:
- Ergonomic safety
- Lightweight and Flexible
- Integration with other PPE
Comfort is key to performance and that is where ergonomics comes in. Ergonomics has been defined as the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment, but in the world of health and safety, it tends to define fitting a job or task around the employee.
We can all remember a time when we weren’t comfortable and we just couldn’t get our minds off it. The same can be true for a worker who is wearing a fall harness, except they can do without this type of distraction. If it isn’t comfortable, he or she is more likely to shift it or wear it in an unapproved position to seek comfort. This can have unintended consequences since wearing a fall harness incorrectly affects the protection it can provide and can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the CDC, MSDs are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) are conditions in which the work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition and/or the condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are associated with high costs to employers such as absenteeism, lost productivity and increased health care, disability, and worker’s compensation costs. Most operations would find it beneficial to increase access to ergonomically designed PPE whenever possible and prevent a great deal of pain and discomfort for workers. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
So, it’s no surprise that fall harness manufacturers have taken this “ounce of prevention” approach seriously by ensuring their solutions include evidence-based and ergonomically designed padding that allows for breathability, comfort and freedom of movement. Fall harnesses that have padding in the shoulders and back can help to relieve muscle fatigue that leads to overexertion. Some harnesses come with specially formulated webbing that can flex to accommodate worker movement and can contour to the body to optimize comfort around the worker’s legs and shoulders. Each of these features contributes to a better ergonomic fit, which helps reduce the risks of WMSDs.
Lightweight and Flexible
Fall harnesses are typically paired with reels and other tools, so the weight distribution is important. In addition, fall harnesses with an H-Design leg fit typically offer workers more comfort and flexibility, making it easier for them to wear the harness properly for extended periods of time.
Light harness weight and flexibility are top of mind since no one wants to be hot or restricted in their movements when working from great heights where attention to detail is key.
Integration with other PPE
It is important that workers have a fall harness that integrates with other PPE since they will be wearing all of their required PPE while working on the jobsite. Fall harnesses that are easy to fit and have hassle-free donning are key. Workers need to be able to quickly get the harness on and off as well as quickly attach any personal SRLs.
Safety managers want a lightweight, easy to wear fall harness with clearly identifiable fall impact indicators for hassle-free inspection to ensure worker safety and jobsite compliance.
In the world of worker safety, we have to remember that comfort must be defined and provide the worker with freedom of movement without pain or constraint. In many operations we are seeing the demand for comfort continue to rise as workers and employers seek innovative solutions that reduce muscle fatigue and help alleviate the fatigue induced by workers’ repetitive movements.