OSHA’s Fall Protection Harness Inspection Requirements Explained

Falls are the cause of most fatalities in the construction industry in the US. In 2018, 320 of the 1008 deaths were the result of a fall to a lower level. Many of these deaths could’ve been prevented if the correct OSHA harness inspection procedures were followed. Although the statistics are extremely tragic, the administration still finds violations of its harness inspection guidelines during their inspections. 

For employees who work at heights understanding and following safety procedures could be a matter of life and death. You need to not only provide them with fall protection equipment, but also train them to maintain it. The sure-fire way to do this is to follow OSHA’s harness inspection requirements for fall protection systems. Not only will it keep your employees safe but you’ll stay on the right side of the law. 

Keep reading if you want to be the company that prioritizes your employees’ safety. We’ll tell you how to ensure that your fall protection harnesses are in good working condition. And, while you’re at it, check out our article on self-retracting lifeline inspection requirements. 

OSHA Fall Protection Harness Inspection Requirements

The standard with all the info regarding personal fall protection systems is standard number 1910.140. OSHA requires that a qualified or competent person inspects a harness every time a worker needs to use it. This person must check:

  • every knot in a vertical lifeline or lanyard to ensure that it’s according to regulation and safe to use. 
  • the stitching on a harness to see if it’s burned, broken, or pulled. 
  • the state of the D-rings, belt ends, rivets, frames, bars, rollers, labeling, friction buckles, and webbing. 

If a harness fails an inspection, OSHA states that it must be “removed from service immediately, and should be tagged or marked as unusable, or destroyed.” When the harness has been used to arrest a fall, it must be removed from service for inspection. The OSHA term for fall arrest is “subject to impact loading”. And here’s an exact excerpt  from the standard: 

“Any personal fall protection system, including components, subjected to impact loading must be removed from service immediately and not used until a competent person inspects the system and determines that it is not damaged and is safe to use for personal fall protection.”

Types of Safety Harness Inspection

There are three main types of safety harness inspection that you need to carry out. Following this schedule will help keep your workers safe and your business OSHA-compliant. 

1. Pre-Use Inspection

It is vital to check that the harness and fall protection equipment is in good condition every time you want to use it. Even if it was inspected recently, there is always a chance that something has happened to it in storage. A pre-use inspection offers the user peace of mind that they can rely on the equipment to protect them. 

When you do the inspection use proper lighting — one that follows the OSHA lighting requirements. This will help you to get the best possible visual impression of the current state. Then inspect every part of the equipment with your hands to spot any wear, cuts, or other issues. 

2. Regular Detailed Inspection

You should perform a more thorough inspection of all your fall protection equipment at regular intervals. Every three or six months, check each individual component of the harness to ensure it meets the OSHA regulations. Investigate the risk and implement a procedure that is fitting for your company

If you use fall protection systems daily, you should perform detailed inspections more often. While, if you use it on a weekly or two weekly basis you can inspect it once every three months. Understandably, staffing and budgetary limits will affect how often it takes place. But be sure to do this inspection at least every six months.

3. Interim Inspection

Perform ad-hoc inspection between the major scheduled inspections. This can prevent potential problems, and it’s also handy to do an interim inspection when there are changes on site that could affect the harness. You may be using new chemicals, a shift in the atmospheric conditions, or anything that could compromise the safety it should offer. 

Safety Harness Inspection Checklist

Here’s a list of areas you need to inspect on a fall protection harness, how to do it, and what to look for: 

Area to Inspect
How to Do it
What to Look For
Webbing
Check visually, but also hold and bend while checking both sides. This is the best way to highlight any cuts or damage.
Any cuts, breaks, fraying or broken fibers, knots, deformation, or deterioration is an instant fail. Look for any hard or shiny spots, burned or melted fibers, and excessive hardness or brittleness – these suggest heat damage. There should be no user modifications, missing straps, or excessive stretching. If there is mildew, you should clean it before use. Check with the manufacturer when someone has used a permanent marker on it, that may compromise safety. Discoloration could be a sign of damage, but you’ll need to inspect it to find the cause. 
Stitching
You need to check visually and touch it to spot any damage.
You should not use the harness if there are any pulled, missing, or cut stitches. If there are hard or shiny spots, this could be due to fire damage. Discoloration may be a concern, but it depends on what caused it. 
Hardware
You need to check visually and touch it to spot any damage.
There shouldn’t be any twists or bends in the hardware of the harness. Check for rough or sharp edges, breaks, cracks, and rust. The grommets should not be broken or distorted. The tongue buckle should overlap the buckle frame and move freely, while the roller turns freely on its frame. Check that the bars are straight and the springs are in a good condition. Also, ensure that no one has modified the hardware in any way. 
Tagging System
Visual. 
Each body harness should feature a tag with all the important information written on it. It should tell you the make and model of the harness. When it was made and any warnings or limitations that you should know about. While inspecting the tag, note when it was made and check that it’s not used beyond its recommended lifespan (if the manufacturer sets such a date). If you cannot read the tag, you should remove it from use.  
D-rings
You need to check visually and touch it to spot any damage.
Make sure the ring can easily pivot and there are no signs of rust, distortion, or any kind of fatigue.

Download OSHA’s harness inspection checklist here. 

Harness Maintenance Tips

It’s important to make sure that you keep the harness clean. Wipe it down with a sponge dipped in water to remove the surface dirt. Dry the sponge and use it to perform a more comprehensive clean using a mixture of water and mild, pH-neutral detergent. 

Once you’ve scrubbed it, wipe the excess liquid with a clean cloth, and hang it to dry at room temperature. Be careful not to place in direct sunlight, which can damage the harness, and certainly do not use a dryer. The excess heat can damage the harness. 

When drying or storing a harness, you should choose a well-ventilated area. Check for and avoid potentially corrosive elements. UV light, chemicals, heat, fumes, and items such as batteries could damage the harness. Also keep it away from damp conditions, where mold can form. 

The user instruction manual should provide more care information. All manufacturers, such as DBI Sala and Honeywell Miller will have their advice on maintenance.

FAQs

How long is fall protection harnesses good for?

There is no OSHA or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) mandated fall protection harness lifespan. Although many experts say that it should last five years in good conditions. Some manufacturers state a recommended lifespan in their user instructions, but it’s not common. 

In practice, it depends on the type of work you do, the make and model of the harness, and several other factors. That’s why you need to perform regular inspections. A harness can last the full five years without any issues, or it can be faulty after one year. It’s up to the person doing an inspection to ensure the harness is fit for use and free of corrosion and damage. To keep your employees safe you should immediately remove a damaged harness from service. 

What affects a fall protection harness’s useful lifespan?

Many types of safety factors can lead to a personal fall arrest system reaching the end of its useful lifespan. It could become damaged through snagging or wear, or it may be exposed to corrosive elements, chemical damage, or physical damage. Being part of an impact event could mean it is no longer viable to use, as could poor storage or maintenance. A proper inspection will flag up any of these issues. 

Who defines a fall protection harness’s end of life?

It’s up to the individual who performs the inspection, to decide whether the personal fall protection equipment has reached the end of its life. They must assess the damage to the equipment and establish whether it’s viable to repair it before making their decision. 

How often should a fall protection harness be inspected?

You should carry out an inspection to check the state of the harness every time you want to use it. In addition, there should be regular in-depth inspections and interim checks whenever it is necessary. You can’t check such an important safety kit too often. 

Conclusion

Falls are a major issue in the workplace, and it’s not surprising that there are stringent inspection requirements for fall protection equipment. OSHA has a responsibility to ensure businesses do all they can to protect their workers. This is especially true for those who take part in the most dangerous of tasks. With the information in this article, you can implement a robust safety regime and, why not, get some inspiration for your construction safety topics

As a final thought, improving safety culture in your organisation can also contribute to preventing fall incidents. And, if you need new and more interesting ways to keep your audience engaged, check out these Youtube Safety Channels.

References and Further Reading