The best safety harness
For construction workers, linemen, tree surgeons, and anyone else working at height without the benefit of a platform, a good safety harness is a vital piece of equipment. These have developed from simple devices made entirely from webbing straps to modern versions that offer enhanced security and much greater choice. Our top pick, 3M DBI-SALA ExoFit NEX Construction Harness, is a favorite with professionals for both its excellent all-around performance and its superior comfort -- an aspect that's often overlooked, until you're wearing one all day!
Considerations when choosing safety harnesses
In the U.S., all safety harnesses should be certified to ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Z359.11-2014. Some also meet OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements. These guarantee the harness has been made to a particular standard -- but not that it will necessarily save you!
The key part is in the manufacturer's instructions, where it will say something like, "complies when used as specified." So while ANSI and OSHA have weight and fall specifications, they will defer to the manufacturer as to applicable weight limits. You need to check both that it's ANSI-certified (beware of cheap harnesses that are not) and, equally importantly, what the weight limit is that's been set by the manufacturer. Never exceed this.
Important note: When working off the ground, you need to stay focused at all times. A safety harness can save your life, but it doesn't make you invincible. Any kind of fall could still result in serious injuries.
Comfort is a key issue. If you're uncomfortable, it's difficult to concentrate and your work can suffer. It can reduce the length of work periods, which impacts productivity. Elements to consider that impact comfort are padding, waist belt width, lumbar support and, of course, overall adjustability, both for comfort and the ability to get in and out of the harness relatively quickly. Professionals tell us it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes. Quick-release connectors are fitted to some models, though tongue buckles remain very popular.
Lanyard attachments: The number of attachment points (D-rings) varies, between one and five. A nice touch with some safety harnesses is a sprung D-ring on the back -- easier to reach than those that fold down.
Weight: You want as light a safety harness as possible, because in the event of a fall, it adds to the overall mass. Although the harness saves you, any additional weight can increase incidental injuries. The use of advanced materials makes a difference, as does aluminum for buckles rather than the traditional steel. A cheap safety harness may have fewer components, but it's not necessarily lighter.
Tool attachment: Waist belts not only provide additional comfort, they can also offer handy attachment points for your tools.
Visibility: Harnesses with reflective materials enhance the visibility of the wearer -- a big plus in any busy area where not being seen creates additional danger.
Safety harness prices
A budget safety harness (in the $35 to $45 range) will be secure but very basic. They are designed for occasional use, and for moderate time spans. At the other end of the scale, a full professional rig might have a broad waist belt, lumbar support, and high-tech padding to provide comfort all day and in varying weather conditions. However, cost can be upwards of $300. Specialist flame-retardant or heat-resistant versions (popular with welders) also fall into this bracket. In the mid-range, there are plenty of choices between $100 to $200. These are ideal for the frequent user, but one who doesn't need a harness all day every day.
Q. Do I need more than one D-ring?
A. It depends on the kind of work you do. A dorsal D-ring is a must for fall protection of greater than two feet (and can be up to 12 feet, if a shock absorber is included). Shoulder and side D-rings should only be used for work positioning, restraint (restricting accessibility in particular areas), or for connecting rescue equipment in the event of a fall. So three -- one dorsal and two shoulder or side -- is probably optimal.
Q. How often should I replace my safety harness?
A. Most experts recommend every five years -- though some manufacturers warrant their products for longer, and some incorporate "wear indicators."
Regardless of age, if there are any signs of damage, you should replace it immediately. In the event of a fall, you should replace it whether damage is visible or not.
Safety harnesses we recommend
Best of the best: 3M DBI-SALA ExoFit NEX Construction Harness
Our take: Top-quality professional harness for all-day wear.
What we like: Very well thought-out design, with fast adjustment and multiple attachment points. At-a-glance rip stitching makes it easy to spot damage. Trauma straps reduce suspension injury. Padding is breathable and wicks moisture for better performance when it's hot.
What we dislike: Expensive. A few find the leg straps uncomfortable.
Best bang for your buck: Guardian Fall Protection 1703 Velocity Harness
Our take: Remarkably low-cost harness for occasional use.
What we like: Tough, UV-resistant polyester provides excellent support. Unusual to find two lanyard keepers (D-rings) on a budget harness. Webbing wear indicators provide fast visual reference. Can be individually marked without compromising the webbing.
What we dislike: Lack of flexibility reduces comfort. Too few tool attachment points.
Our take: Mid-range harness strikes a good balance between price and performance.
What we like: Fast adjustment. Nice broad straps, padded waist belt, and flexible shoulder areas provide high comfort levels. Three lanyard points. Useful hammer loops.
What we dislike: Some (but by no means all) large people found it uncomfortable. Occasional quality-control faults.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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