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Is your fall harness actually set up to protect you?

A fall at work can be deadly, even if it's only from a few feet. For those working at significant heights -- think two stories and above -- a fall is almost guaranteed to result in catastrophic injuries, if not death.

Workers have many ways they can combat this risk, of course. They need proper training. They may work only in enclosed spaces. They use highly-rated ladders, scaffold systems and rails. Everything they do focuses on reducing the chances of a fall.

To take it one step further, though, many workers wear fall harnesses. This does not make the fall any less likely, but it can literally save a worker's life if a fall does happen. Unlike common rock climbing harnesses, which strap around the waist and legs, many workplace harnesses hook around the torso and arms, as well, and they connect at a single point in the back.

These harnesses are very helpful, but only if they are properly set up and adjusted. Here are a few keys to keep in mind.

1. Always inspect your harness before putting it on

Never assume that the harness is ready or that it's in good condition. Take a moment to inspect it before you trust it with your life. Look for issues like missing components, damaged D-rings, cracked webbing and frayed fabric. This is especially important if you use a company harness and you're not the only one to use it.

2. Adjust it to fit you tightly

A harness that is not snug and secure may not catch you. Again, if you're using company equipment, it's not set up for you. Maybe you stand 5'10" and weigh 160, while a co-worker is 6'2" and weighs 250. If they used that harness before you, it'll be set up very differently than what you need. Put it on and then take a few minutes to tighten the straps down.

3. Understand your anchor points

Once you have it on, you need to attach yourself to an anchor point. The OSHA standards say that the anchor point should take 5,000 pounds of force in a fall. Remember, your speed and the distance you fall increase the weight dramatically. If two people attach to the same anchor and they both fall, it can exceed that limit. The 5,000 pounds is per person, not per anchor. Never expose yourself to a potential fall until the whole system is ready.

After an injury

Falling on faulty gear or falling without a harness can clearly lead to serious injury, but remember that even falling with the right safety system can put you in the hospital. Make sure you are well aware of the legal rights you have in Colorado.

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