The Evolution of the Safety Harness

Worker constructing the Empire State Building – 1929-1931

Is there something wrong with this picture? Or are you just saying to yourself, “Don’t look down”?

Before the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the creation of the Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA) in the early 1970s, fall protection was unregulated, and employers bore almost no liability for fall risks. Signage and verbal warnings acted as the highest means of protective measures for these extreme heights. Employees carried the responsibility for their own safety, a dangerous tightrope walk with their health. What was worn for protection? [Refer to the picture on the right.] Many saw their safety devices cumbersome and restrictive; that’s only because they were.

Body belts were originally modeled after rock climber safety harnesses.

Body belts. Their design was inspired by rock climbers. OSHA restricted the use of body belts in 1997, and was effective January 1, 1998. They were deemed unsafe for most work activities. If a worker was wearing a designated body belt and fell “correctly”, their body would hang horizontally. If a worker fell “incorrectly”, they could slip from the belt from over their shoulders. Despite how someone could fall, spine and midsection injuries could happen. Of course, body belts were improved immensely over the years. Stronger and more durable material replaced a simple rope. Hooking measures went from one D-ring to two.

As companies began to witness more injuries and fatalities with OSHA inspections and heavy non-compliance fines, safety attitudes in the workplace changed. Fall protection became a priority, and companies began to address considerable unsafe practices. Thus, the safety harness was born and improved. The inspiration for these alterations derived from the troops. Safety devices were modeled after military paratroopers. This full body harness protects workers from the fall and protects them from any internal injury. New models are regularly created with changes to weight and shape – all with the effort to keep those who work at high elevations safe.

Roofer utilizing their full body harness.


Now are you saying to yourself, “Don’t look down”?

Sources: “OSHA Fall-protection Timeline.” OSHA Fall-protection Timeline. Professional Roofing Magazine, n.d. Web.
“Fall Protection Systems Criteria and Practices. – 1926.502.” Fall Protection Systems Criteria and Practices. – 1926.502. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d. Web.
“A Brief History of Fall Protection.” Rigid Lifelines. Rigid LifeLines, n.d. Web. 26 June 2014. <>


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