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Whether you're working on a roof or washing windows from a scaffold, a safety harness could save your life. A full-body safety harness not only keeps you from striking the ground should you lose your footing, but distributes the impact of breaking your fall among your shoulders, chest and upper thighs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires fall protection for most employees working four feet above the ground. But a damaged safety harness is useless, and thorough inspection should be part of your pre-work routine.
Inspect the Webbing
The web body of the harness should be inspected daily. Bend all web surfaces, a section at a time, and look for damage. Any cuts, broken fibers or frayed edges will show themselves on close inspection, and each of these will compromise your protection. Broken fibers will show up as fuzzy spots in the webbing. Check all stitching; none should be torn or loose. Check the color of all parts; if anything is faded, it might also be weakened.
Inspect the Hardware
Any bent or loose parts should be replaced. No metal grommets should be bent, distorted or missing. All rivets should be tight and undamaged. Buckles should not have any sharp edges or bent parts. Check all D rings and metal loops for cracks or distortion. Check to make sure nothing is loose.
Inspect Ropes and Lanyards
Inspect the entire rope and lanyard for damage, taking your time. Broken fibers are dangerous. Also check the rope's diameter; any spots that are thinner than the rest of the rope usually mean stress or damage. The rope should be of uniform thickness along its entire length. For lanyard straps, check for any loose or broken stitching. Also inspect all clips for cracks or distortion.
Check Your Installation
Although you may know that safety harness well enough to put it on correctly, a mistake can be fatal. A buddy system helps add a level of protection. Have a co-worker check your harness when you put it on, and check his over to make sure he didn't overlook anything.
When to Replace Parts
If you are involved in a fall and the harness catches you, check it over thoroughly afterward. Parts may have become weakened or bent from the impact of your weight. You will probably want to replace the rope or lanyard, at the very least. If your equipment shows any damage, replace the safety harness. Even if you have any doubts about the integrity of the harness, it should be replaced. Take no chances.
Al Bondigas is an award-winning newspaperman who started writing professionally in 1985. His print credits include the "Mohave Valley Daily News" and "The Mohave County Standard." Bondigas studied journalism at San Bernardino Valley College in California.