There are three types of climbing harness. A sit harness is just what it sounds like. There are loops for the legs and loops around the hips. Sometimes used in conjunction with the sit harness is the chest harness which provides extra support when hauling a heavy backpack. These two types don’t transfer well to tower climbers, they are mainly used by rock climbers.
The type of harness tower climbers will need to be familiar with is the full body harness. It is covered more in depth in another article on proper harness fit. It is a combination of the sit harness and the chest harness. These two sections may be either permanently or semi-permanently attached together. It will have many connection points. The basic idea of the full body harness will remain the same, but when it comes to material choice, there are many pros and cons for each.
There are currently five types of material used on full body harnesses; Nylon, Polyester, Kevlar, Nomex, and Dyneema. Nylon and Polyester are the two which are most commonly found, but advancements in the industry may lead to a surge in the use of the other three. Material knowledge is important when deciding which harness to invest in.
Nylon is soft and flexible. It was the material most widely used at the beginning of the fall protection equipment industry. When determining the “break strength” for any material, the thickness of the material is taken into account. On its own nylon has a break strength of between 1,400 and 5,500 pounds. In order to increase the break strength, nylon would need to be made thicker and would therefore lose much of its flexibility and stretchiness.
One of the biggest drawbacks about nylon is that it gets weaker when it starts to get wet. Nylon has above average water absorption, which makes it prone to accumulating mold. This mold weakens the material, especially when it forms at connection points. Anyone who opts for a nylon harness will want to take extra measures to ensure it dries thoroughly.
Polyester is a preferred material for many manufacturers. While it is not nearly as flexible as nylon it is more durable. On average, polyester has a break strength of 1,500 to 10,000 pounds, depending on the thickness and how it is made. The estimated break strength will vary from harness to harness and from manufacturer to manufacturer, but will be listed on the harness or the manufacturers website.
Polyester is resistant to water absorption, which means it will be less likely to mold and to lose its stability when in contact with water. Those tower climbers who work in humid areas or areas where rain occurs frequently should take this into account. The morning dew can be just as detrimental as a rain storm.
The material Dyneema is not an industry standard yet. But it does offer increased resistance to cuts, rips and abrasions. The materials Nomex and Kevlar are still being examined for their break strength. These last two are flame retardant and high heat resistant. They are being recommended for those who weld and need fall protection.
Before shelling out money for a harness, think carefully about the pros and cons and the specific needs for your line of work. As with anything, be sure to take proper care of the harness. Just because it is Polyester, do not leave it in a pool of water. Proper harness care will ensure the longest lifespan of each harness.
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