Women’s Beginner Guide to Harness Donning
I always get a little kick when I see a lady rocking a technical harness. Not trying to be weird, but it’s just so nice to see more women getting into the technical fields!
Having said that, it’s equally as frustrating when I see said woman rocking that harness completely incorrectly and then I have to have the talk with her. I mean let’s be serious, industrial fall arrest and work positioning harnesses are not designed for the feminine form. They’re designed for the average fit male which means you’re probably not gonna find an XXS empire-waist full body harness with adjustable boob cut outs (but if you do, let me know!). So, working with what we have, it’s probably gonna be uncomfortable at first. Something is gonna rub or get pinched, we’ve all been there, even the guys.
However, a lot of discomfort can be avoided by donning appropriate clothing and finding the right harness for your body and your job that is fit for a fall.
Harnesses that are too loose can result in failure and significant injuries to the wearer, generally in some pretty sensitive areas. So if you’re new to working at height, here are a few tips to help you start off strong.
Do know your rescue plan. As a part of your risk assessment before the job starts, you and your team should identify the hazards in your area, how to address or avoid them and how the technician can be rescued should things go sideways. Try to set up a “Rigged for Rescue” system that can be easily operated by a trained competent person on site. Rigging for rescue implies installing controlled releasable gear in your work-at-height system so that the technician can be rescued remotely without putting someone else at risk. The rigger setting up your system will also be calculating your clearances and may have you use different gear at different heights. Please pay close attention to these details as using the wrong gear for your height clearance may result in splat.
Do find the right harness for the right job. If I see one more person dangling from a fall arrest harness on their sternum point like they are work positioning or goofing off I might actually have a conniption. Those harnesses are meant to be light weight and utilized only as a last resort measure in life safety, taking a fall in one or just hanging out will hurt. If you’re gonna be on a job that requires some hanging about get yourself a work positioning set-up that you can sit into and relax a bit.
Do wear the right clothes. Find you some stretchy pants. Try to find some with higher waists too as hours of harness activity can cause shirts to ride up and pants to ride down, and you’re probably not working that kind of show. Or maybe you are, burlesques are always fun. Extra points for zippered pockets to keep your small gear secured. Wearing a harness for hours on end takes some getting used to and can be even more difficult in extreme climates and scrambling around with heavy, awkward gear. So invest in some lightweight and moisture wicking attire that you like and will move with you.
Do find a harness that can incorporate rescue straps. These can be attached directly to your harness and deployed to allow the casualty to stand up a bit to take pressure off the legs while awaiting rescue. This can provide the casualty and rescue team valuable time in delaying the onset of suspension trauma.
Don’t forget your helmet. If you’re doing something that has a fall risk, protecting your head is probably pretty important too. Get yourself a bandana or other covering to keep your hair from getting caught up in your gear and secure your chin strap.
Don’t forget to attach the center front strap. A lot of newbies neglect this and forget that it is integral in keeping you inside. Also, definitely don’t forget to keep that strap at the center of your chest. Yep, that means it shouldn’t sit at your collar bone. Taking a fall in that position is a great way to asphyxiate yourself. Also, don’t put it too low either as wearing it under your cleavage might provide some relief and extra support, but taking a fall like that is a great way to dislocate your boobs and vow to never wear a harness again. Just above the nipple line is your Goldilocks to keep you safely inside. Have a buddy check before you climb, which leads me to my next point.
Don’t climb alone. Always make someone aware of the work that you are doing. It is absolutely crucial to have open two way communication and a visual with another person on the ground. They can help you keep a secure workspace and can raise the alarm should you need a rescue. Make sure you and your team are fully aware of the work that will happen, where and how, while insuring that the area will remain safe for yourselves and others.
Don’t be rushed. We all know that time is precious and there is a good chance that at some point your scheduled project is going to run over and step on someone else’s slot for the space. Keep your people informed and be reasonable about what you can accomplish in the time that you have. Do not let your colleagues pressure you into moving faster than you are able. You are the person working at height and the last thing you want is for mistakes to happen because you tried to speed a process. Be assertive about communicating the time you need to secure your site so that operations may continue at a reasonable time.
Obviously, all of this is not a substitute for proper training and experience, just one girl’s opinions on some things I have noticed over the years. If you find that your job may require you to work in the air, be sure to get an orientation and training on your expected tasks. Try your gear out on the ground first until you are confident. Knowing the majority of gear is made for the men that dominate the industry, while making statistical sense, here are a couple of harnesses that I can attest have a bit more adjustability for you or the lady in your life.
Also by Anna Tompkins:
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