Recently, I watched a contractor walk out of a big-box store carrying two fall-protection systems in sealed buckets. When he gets around to opening them, he will find the following items: a temporary anchor, a lifeline, a rope grab, a lanyard (with shock absorber) and a full-body harness.
Sounds great, right? All that safety gear in one cost-effective package? Sure, the price is right, but there’s a potentially devastating item included in that bucket: A false sense of security.
What’s wrong with this kind of merchandising? Well, let me compare it to the purchase of safety boots. What would you think if you went into a store and found that they only carried these boots in one size? Would that lead to good safety on the job site? Obviously not. Well it’s the same with body harnesses: bodies also come in different shapes and sizes, and harnesses need to be sized to fit the wearer. If you wear the wrong size of harness, it can be fatal, because you can be catapulted out of a poorly fitting harness during a fall. So your safety harness is doing nothing but providing you with a false sense of security.
A group of contractors from the Canadian Association of Renovators & Homes Services (CARAHS) inspected the “harness in a bucket” at our training facility in Pickering, Ont. I made sure the harness was fitted tightly, especially the chest strap, and I adjusted the shoulder straps as best I could. But in our test, the harness did not stay in place. Both shoulder straps could easily be pulled downward off both my shoulders. Meaning, I could be ejected from the harness if I bounced around during a fall. We rated this particular harness as useless.
Choose a full-body harness — and the rest of your fall safety system — carefully. Don’t buy based on convenience or price alone, as your life and your workers’ lives depend on quality gear. Select a harness that suits your specific body size.
In Ontario, you cannot use fall-protection systems unless you’ve completed the new Ministry of Labour Working at Heights standard training course — or you currently carry a Fall Training card and are using the current transition rules.
By providing education and training, CARAHS reduces your risk of fines, jobsite closures and prosecution under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. We are independent of unions and government.
Alec Caldwell is the founder of CARAHS, a health and safety organization. CARAHS is approved by the Ontario Ministry of Labour to teach Working at Heights training.