Fall Protection : Body Belt versus Body Harness

Fall Protection : Body Belt versus Body Harness

OSHA Fall Protection Standards

In a world where it seems space is always limited, many workplaces are building up instead of out. This means that there is an increased chance for fall hazards and fall-related injuries. With this in mind, it is imperative for safety managers to understand OSHA fall safety standards. Primary among these standards is the elimination of body belts and the full implementation of the body harness as an alternative.

In the late 1900s, safety regulators in the United States and Great Britain conducted research that proved body belts for fall protection were, in fact, an often times deadly piece of safety equipment. In one study conducted by the British Standards Institute’s National Engineering Lab, researchers were shocked to see a dummy folded nearly in two by the body belt with its head slammed against the surface beneath. Later, OSHA commissioned engineers at the Wright Patterson Airforce Base in Ohio to test how long a worker could survive suspended in a body belt after a fall prior to being retrieved by rescue workers. The results showed that the average sized women could survive just two and a half minutes, and the average sized man, only thirty-two seconds before dying of asphyxiation suspended in a body belt.

Thankfully, though, a worker can survive between 20 and 30 minutes if left suspended after a fall in an OSHA-approved body harness.

The Body Harness

As opposed to the body belt that fit only around a person’s waist, a body harness fits around a person’s legs, over their arms, and around their torso. This allows for the weight of the fall to be more evenly distributed throughout the body and absorbed by the D-ring located on the harness between the shoulder blades where the lanyard is attached.

Despite its naturally safer structure, there are still a number of safety measures a worker must take when using a body harness in an environment where a fall may occur.

  • Make Sure Equipment is in Good Condition

    Inspect the harness, lanyard, and anchor point to ensure all are in good working condition. If a harness is damaged in any way, it must be removed from service and replaced.

  • Use Proper Lanyard Length

    Take into account the person’s height and the platform height when calculating lanyard length. There should always be a three-foot safety margin. The formula is as follows:

    (Platform Height) – (Person Height) – (3 ft) = Maximum Lanyard Length

    example: A 6 ft tall man is working on a 20 ft high platform. The lanyard must be a maximum of (20 ft – 6 ft – 3 ft) long = 11 ft.

  • Have a Rapid Rescue Plan

    A body harness can cause a condition known as suspension trauma caused by restricted blood flow, so it is imperative to get the individual out of suspension as quickly as possible. Be prepared to call in medical reinforcements if the person shows signs of suspension trauma.

What Now?

If you have any body belts still in use in your warehouse or distribution center, get rid of them immediately and replace them with body harnesses. While you’re checking out your equipment, complete a thorough inspection of all your fall safety gear. Remember, a good fall safety system consists of more than just a body harness! Do you have guard rails in appropriate places and designed according to OSHA regulations? Are your ladders and/or scaffolding up to code? Have your workers been adequately trained recently? You never know when a fall may occur, so it is better to be prepared than to face the consequences later.



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