Q. I'm a long-time rock climber and carpenter, and I've been using climbing harnesses for job-site fall protection for many years. These kinds of harnesses are designed to protect the wearer in the event of a severe fall, and I've had a lot of practice using them. But with all the emphasis on fall protection lately, I'm wondering if their use in construction is accepted by OSHA.

A.Craig Firl, technical manager for fall-protection equipment manufacturer Capital Safety, responds: The short answer is no, they're not. Unless the harness is compliant with OSHA and ANSI - and labeled accordingly - it should not be used on the job site.

There are a number of important design differences between a mountain-climbing harness - sometimes called a sit harness - and an industrial-type fall-arrest harness. Full-body harnesses for job-site use feature shoulder straps, leg straps, sub-pelvic support (which absorbs impact to the buttocks area), and a chest strap to restrain the worker.

Another key difference is that proper job-site harnesses have a dorsal (back) D-ring to which a personnel-rated fall-arrest connecting system is attached. This system consists of an energy-absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lifeline designed to limit forces on the body and reduce fall distances to just a few feet. In a mountaineering system, by contrast, the energy of a fall is absorbed by a "dynamic" rope, which stretches when under load.

Finally, a mountain-climbing harness may not be designed for 5,000 pounds of strength as required by OSHA - and even if it is, will lack the required agency approval. Use only the tools designed specifically for the job and you can't go wrong.