Don't Be Left Hanging

Have you ever wondered how safe your "safety" belt is?

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Last fall, Jaclyn M. Reysen of Green Lake, Wis., climbed into her deer stand, slipped, fell and died of asphyxiation when her safety belt tightened around her chest. As awful as that tragedy is, it is not so uncommon-every year tree-stand safety belts injure and kill people. John Louk, president of Ol' Man Treestands, hears horror stories after each deer season. "Some hunters slip out of the belt and fall to the ground," he says. "Others flip over in their safety belts and break their backs. Even those who wear belts correctly can die of asphyxiation, because if a hunter falls, his belt may become so tight that he will be unable to breathe."

And it's not just hunters who have trouble with safety belts. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) restricted the use of safety belts for construction workers in 1998 because its research showed that if a person wearing a safety belt falls and is left suspended, serious internal injuries can occur. The OSHA findings also show that a person hanging at the end of a safety belt's tether has only a short amount of time to get back on his feet before he loses consciousness. Because of these problems with safety belts, companies from outdoor-catalog retailers to tree-stand manufacturers are selling versions of what has collectively become known as the "full-body harness." These harnesses are similar to the commercial units that are recommended by OSHA. They have adjustable straps for the midsection, shoulders and legs, so that the impact of a fall is spread out over a person's whole body. In fact, research by OSHA shows that if a person wearing a full-body harness falls, he will probably have enough time to recover before serious injury occurs.

Many of the units also come with climbing straps. Just attach the strap to the tree while you are on the ground and slide it along with you as climb. Anyone who has scaled 20 feet up a tree on a cold, icy morning before sunrise will applaud this addition.

Here's another good buying tip: Every year people hurt themselves and then call 1-800-Lawyer, with the idea that they can sue the tree-stand manufacturer-this is the reason you see stickers that read "Warning! A safety harness must be worn at all times...." pasted onto tree stands. As a result, Ol' Man Treestands, API and Summit are now offering full-body harnesses free with each tree stand purchased. Some people go halfway and choose another option: the chest harness. This safety device has adjustable midsection and shoulder straps, but no leg straps. A chest harness will keep you upright if you fall and will spread the shock onto your chest and shoulders. But it may restrict your breathing.

What it comes down to is, a full-body harness is much less likely to leave you hanging.