December 15, 2003

Mr. John Henshaw, CIH
Assistant Secretary of Labor/OSHA
U.S. Department of Labor/Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20210

CHEST AND FULL BODY HARNESS CONCERNS

Dear Assistant Secretary Henshaw:

The ANSI Z117 (Confined Spaces) and Z359 (Fall Protection/Arrest) Accredited Standards Committee(s) (ASC) appreciates the assistance you have given us before with our initiatives to move occupational safety and health forward. We are committed to protecting people and an issue has been brought to the attention of our committee(s), which we believe warrants your attention and action.

A number of OSHA staffers have pointed out to us that the current 29 CFR 1910.146 language states that confined space entrants shall wear "a chest or full-body harness" for retrieval when entering a confined space. We believe this allowance of a chest harness to be used for rescue is a significant safety issue and needs to be addressed. We understand that OSHA recently had to address this issue when discovering an employer allowing employees to enter a confined space utilizing a chest harness only. Our committees believe this is unacceptable for the following reasons:

  1. The entrant would have to be conscious to be retrieved in order to hold his/her arms together to prevent the chest harness from slipping over their head.
  2. Without a seat harness to connect to, the chest harness can be pulled off the employee fairly easily.
  3. If the entrant sustained any injury to the hand, forearm, upper arm or shoulder of either side, the chest harness could not be held in place and would most likely cause the harness to roll off the entrant.
  4. Our membership has taken the position that they have never seen a chest harness design to be used alone for extraction purposes outside of water rescue. For fall protection, if a retrieval line failed and the employee was caught on an additional safety line attached to the chest, recent studies have shown that severe injuries could occur.
  5. The ANSI Z359.1 Standard on Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and Components does not allow the use of a chest harness only. That standard only allows the use of a full-body harness.
  6. Chest-harness-only retrieval would be extremely uncomfortable and could exacerbate body trunk injuries.

Our members have commented that they are aware of very few instances where a chest harness was used during confined space rescue. In addition, we are aware that OSHA has already issued an interpretation indicating that 29 CFR 1910.146 does not address fall hazards, and that fall hazards in confined spaces are addressed by existing regulations. The current interpretation addresses classification of a space as permit-required, but it does clearly state that fall hazards are addressed not by CFR 146, but by other existing standards. To address the concern, and work within the parameters of the Agency, we are requesting an interpretation more specific to the use of harnesses that makes it clear that "the harness used for entry must meet all applicable fall protection requirements if a fall hazard exists at any time during the entry," or that "the provisions of paragraph (k)(3) do not relieve the employer of responsibility to provide and ensure the employee uses a harness suitable for fall protection purposes where a fall hazard exists at any time during the entry."

In conclusion, we are concerned that the lack of scientific proof, satisfactory testing or evidence of suitability of devices described as chest harnesses may leave some Entrants at an unacceptable level of risk. A change of the regulation to eliminate the acceptance of a chest harness as part of a confined space rescue procedure is requested. Should a public policy correction not be feasible within a reasonable time period, an acceptable interim solution could be the issue of an appropriate interpretation or directive identifying this issue and declaring that the use of a chest harness in this instance is unacceptable.

Both of our committees are available to work with you or your staff on this issue and we look forward to your assistance in correcting this significant occupational safety and health concern.

Sincerely Yours,

Edward Grund, PE, CSP
Chair, Z117 ASC

Jack Dobson, CSP
Chair, Z359 ASC