Seasonal safety: Summer

Wearing fall protection harnesses in hot weather

In hot weather, wearing a harness can become uncomfortable. Are there ways a worker can alter his or her harness to become less restrictive and increase breathability? Are there other measures that can be taken to avoid heat stress?

Answered by Nate Bohmbach, softgoods product manager, Capital Safety, Red Wing, MN.

A worker should never loosen the straps or leave a strap unbuckled on his or her harness to provide more comfort in hot climates. In the event of a fall, arrest forces will not be properly distributed to the entire body if the straps are loosened. Rather, energy will be concentrated on the leg straps, which could result in injury. Leaving a strap unbuckled will not protect the worker in the event of a fall.

A harness should always be worn tight enough so that it feels snug, yet comfortable. A good rule of thumb for educating a worker on how tight to wear his or her harness is the "fist test": You should just barely be able to fit your fist between the leg strap of your harness and your leg. If a worker can easily slip his or her fist between the strap and leg, the harness is not tight enough.

Fortunately, there are other ways to mitigate the effects of the sun on a hot day. Harnesses are available that are made with materials designed to wick away moisture from the body, much like the fiber used in several lines of athletic apparel. Removable padding lined with 3-D mesh also can help the harness feel more breathable and provide comfort should a male worker decide to don the harness without a shirt underneath. However, wearing a harness without a shirt is not recommended – not only because of sun exposure, but also because fall arrest can be more painful if the harness is in direct contact with the skin.

Sweat has not demonstrated negative long-term effects on harnesses; however, a harness should be washed periodically. Following any exposure to moisture, the harness should be hung and dried properly to avoid mildew growth, which can affect the durability of a harness. Likewise, long-term sun exposure can cause webbing on a harness to deteriorate. If the harness shows signs of significant fading or mildew, it should be removed from service.

When workers become hot, it is not just discomfort that can cause a work slowdown. Excessive heat can lead to disorders such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Dehydration often is a cause of these conditions. The challenge that workers at height face is that they are often separated from a water source, and it is not always convenient or feasible to carry fluids on a jobsite. Harness accessories such as clip-on water carriers are one solution to this problem. These accessories keep the water source close but out of the way and hands-free. Essentially, a pack with a built-in fluid container is strapped on to the back of the harness, just below the D-ring. A drinking tube is connected to the container and clipped to the front of the harness. The important thing to keep in mind with these and other accessories is that they should not block the harness's safety components, and they should easily snap free in an emergency.

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