In 2016 the Tree Care Industry Association (TICA) found a total of 92 tree care related fatalities. Of these, the most common injury in 2016 was due to a fall (48 injuries with 26 fatalities) and this trend has remained unchanged since 2013. A 2017 study by The Arboricultural Association found that 60% of practicing arborists considered poor work positioning to be the cause of accidents in the workplace.
It should be clear to any arborist that your harness is front and centre in terms of keeping you safe as you perform any type of aerial work. The good news for arborists is that tree climbing harnesses have evolved massively over the years, to encompass a spectrum of personal preferences, various job functionalities and the wearer’s comfort.
In this article, I want to look at how to pick the perfect harness that you can trust to fit your body and how you work.
Types of Harnesses for Arborists
For any newcomers to the job, the first thing to understand the various types of harness you’ll see. To ease this process, it helps to know their intended applications and features:
Work positioning / Suspension
This is the type of harness you’ll need for general tree climbing.
Work positioning systems are designed for mobility. It will help you climb, move around the tree, and safely position yourself to carry out your task—with both hands free.
This type of harness comes with a central attachment point, to which you’ll attach your main climbing line, and side attachment points called D-rings that climbers attach lanyards to. These lanyards are attached to one side, goes around the branch/trunk, then reattached on the opposite D-ring.
Suspension systems are designed to cradle the user in a semi-seated position.
Most tree climbing harnesses today have features of both work positioning and suspension systems incorporated in them.
2. Fall restraint
Fall restraint systems are designed to prevent you from falling or getting to a position where you could fall. This comes in the form of a full body harness with a dorsal attachment point that is then connected to a reliable anchor via a lanyard.
This is the type of harness you’d use with a MEWP (Mobile Elevated Work Platform) or ‘cherry picker’. The lanyard needs to be kept short enough to to prevent the user from reaching a fall-risk zone, for example, standing on the hand rail.
This type of harness is not suitable for general tree climbing.
3. Fall arrest
Fall arrest systems are not normally appropriate for any form of tree climbing but we’ve included this here for clarity.
A fall arrest system is designed to protect you after you fall by lessening the impact of accompanying forces and minimising the damage of any injury, through the use of a shock absorber. This comes in the form of full-body harnesses with heavy suspenders like those used in aerial lifts.
This type of harness system is not designed for climbing, and is not usually suitable for use with a MEWP either due to lack of clear drop zone and insufficient height.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Harness
Choosing the perfect harness isn’t just about your body shape but the kind of work you do as well. Below are some important considerations when choosing a harness:
You have two options for leg-strap harnesses:
- Sit harnesses – this type will carry your weight via a strap beneath your buttocks, with the help of a batten or stiffener. When used, it feels like sitting on a swing. This is best used for cabling, bracing, and crane operations—all of which require hanging for long periods of time.
- Individual leg straps – this type will carry your weight via padded leg straps, which would then give you more freedom to move around. Leg straps are best used for mobility purposes.
Central attachments also come in two forms:
- Sliding – also called a sliding D, this type will give you more lateral freedom, as it comes with a strap or rope in front of the harness that slides or moves along.
- Fixed – this type comes with a single attachment point in front of the harness, but also has multiple attachments in various spots to distribute your weight. Given how it feels more secure, beginners prefer this over the sliding attachment.
Before purchasing any new harness, it’s always best to try it out first. If you can, borrow a colleague’s harness and see if it would work well with your tasks.
Also, consider your own body structure. Take advantage of stores that allow for personalisation as your comfort and safety should come first—not the aesthetics.
High-quality and well-designed harnesses do not come cheap. However, when taken care of properly, a good tree climbing harness can last you up to five years. Although it can be tempting to go for the cheaper model, this can often be a false economy. What’s more it may not give you the comfort you require. At the end of the day, you’re going to spend a lot of time in your harness.
To make the point, a good rule of thumb is to break down how much your preferred harness costs for each day that you climb. If it works out less than your daily cup of coffee, then surely that’s a great investment!
Don’t Hang By A Thread
If your current harness shows signs of wear and tear (e.g. cuts, broken stitching, cracked/damaged metals), it’s time to retire it. Before purchasing, do your research. Make sure that your harness is designed for tree climbing and that it will fit your task requirements and your body type.
Do your research and take your time when it comes to your next harness as it could literally save your life one day.
For a more detailed breakdown on accidents in the arb industry and what arborists and tree surgeons can do to prevent them, check out our guide.
About the Author: Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, and has worked in the arborist industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter, Facebook or call Landmark Trading on 01780 482231.