What is the right harness for you?

Amy LavinHigh Rise Safety, Industry, Window Cleaning

Choosing a harness is an essential first step in high-rise window cleaning. Even for those who are seasoned veterans in high-rise, it is important to know how the harness functions and to make a smart purchase when buying one. Buying a harness can be a bit intimidating at first because you must get the right one for your situation. However, this feeling can easily be dissolved when you are equipped with some basic harness knowledge and can articulate your needs.

Fall Arrest Harnesses vs Rope Access Harnesses

Depending on how you are going about your high-rise window cleaning setup, window cleaners usually choose between two types of harnesses. The first is a fall protection harness. This is lightweight and very basic, ideal for high-rise cleaning that doesn’t require your weight to be continuously supported. A fall protection harness would be used in instances with lifts, platforms, and rooftop when you are working with roof repair. It is not designed to hold a person’s weight comfortably for an extended period and cannot be used in traditional rope access systems. A fall protection harness can almost be thought of as a type of necessary backup because it will hold your weight if something were to happen but is not responsible for your entire weight the whole time.

If you are looking to use a more traditional rope access method for high-rise window cleaning, you need a rope access harness. These harnesses are designed to hold your entire bodyweight comfortably. However, a chair can add extra comfort and extend the time you can hang in them. Rope access harnesses are much more versatile than fall protection harnesses. They do everything a fall protection harnesses does, plus more, including the ability to perform rescues more effectively. These harnesses are usually bulkier than fall protection harnesses because they have added features and are significantly more padded.

D-Rings. All harnesses have big rings called D-Rings. Fall protection harnesses usually have front and/or back D-Rings, while rope access harnesses generally have front, back, waist, and also sided D-Rings. But what are D-Rings?


The back D-Ring is called the dorsal, like a dolphin. It is commonly used for attaching your fall arrest. When standing on a platform, this will either be attached to a lanyard connected to an anchor, or a rope grab connected to a backup line. In a rope descent system, it will connect to a rope grab attached to your back up line.


The front D-Ring is referred to as the sternal. It can be used for all of the same things as the back D-Ring. If you have a harness with a front D-Ring, it’s generally desirable to attach your rope grab there in a rope descent system. This helps you self-rescue and makes it easier to check that you are connected to your device correctly.


A waist D-Ring is called a ventral. It is commonly used for attachment to a mainline, especially in rope access, where a chair isn’t in use. You might not use this as often if you’ll be using a bosun’s chair, but it will come in handy in case you need to perform an assisted rescue.


The last type of D-Rings is the side D-Ring, no fancy name. These are used for positioning, something that is rarely done in window cleaning. If your harness has these D-Rings, just know that they are not rated for fall arrest!


There are two main certifications that you’ll see on harnesses, ANSI & NFPA. Which of these you need (or if you need any at all) is a subject for a much longer post involving a lawyer, but you are safest to get a harness that is at least ANSI (just be prepared to justify that decision to OSHA).

The ANSI certificate to look for is ANSI Z359. Most harnesses are going to meet this standard. It’s the general fall protection standard most often referenced by OSHA. There are a lot of rules that a harness must meet to be ANSI Z359 certified.

The other certification is more for rope access harnesses and is NFPA. Most rope access harnesses will meet this standard, but not fall protection harnesses. NFPA generally covers rescue equipment.

Full Body vs Sitting Harnesses

The last thing to select before you choose which harness best fits your needs is to decide between a full-body harness and a sit harness. Despite how common they are in the window cleaning industry, sit harnesses are not allowed. If you get turned upside down, it is easy to slip out of these harnesses. If you are rock climbing, go ahead with a sit harness. If you are doing industrial work, get a full-body harness.

Harness Fit

Once you choose the harness you like, make sure the size you get fits you correctly. An accurate fit has the straps of your harness tightened down nice and snug, particularly in the legs. A good test of this is if two fingers can squeeze between the harness and your leg without excess space. Loose leg straps will cause serious and unpleasant injuries in case of a fall. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to get a harness that fits well. A harness that fits poorly won’t work well in case of a fall. In some cases, you might even be able to slip out of it. Once you have picked the harness that’s best for you, the next step is to get some training. No matter your high-rise cleaning method, it is essential to take classes to know and practice how to perform a rescue.

abc window cleaning supply offers many harnesses to choose from, along with the other gear you’ll need for high-rise window cleaning. (Wondering what else you might need to begin high-rise cleaning? Click here). Whatever you decide, knowing the essential features of a harness will better equip you to choose a perfect harness and alleviate some nervousness about the process.

*Note: If you are new to rope access techniques, be sure to get trained and certified in rope access by IRATA or SPRAT (or both). In fact, even if you are approaching high rise window cleaning with a sort of platform setup, these classes are a great idea because they teach important rescue techniques. This training is vital for the safety of you and your crew and should not be overlooked.