Fall Protection Equipment Requires Regular Inspection
Deterioration of fall protection is one reason why injuries and deaths from severe falls at work sites go up. Factors include:
• Deterioration of equipment with repeated use and exposure.
• Equipment is not inspected enough for wear and tear.
• No proper training provided.
• Wrong equipment is selected for the job and not worn properly.
It’s likely that a big percentage of equipment used on job sites throughout North America fails to meet safety standards. For example, shock-absorbing lanyards were voluntarily removed from job sites for safety qualification, and 85 percent of the samples failed standard safety tests using ANSI standards. Lanyards from eight manufacturers exhibited a variety of performance failures, and none of them passed visual inspection for such things as weld splatter, webbing cuts/abrasions, broken stitching, frayed/burned webbing, chemical damage, discoloration, deformed hardware and/or loose, distorted or broken grommets, etc. Also:
• 6 percent used webbing that actually broke
• 24 percent elongated more than the 42-inch standard
• 83 percent had fall arrest forces more than 900 lbs. (ANSI), 9 percent more than 1,800 lbs. (OSHA)
• 6 percent were previously deployed, but still in service, when removed from job site
• 42 percent had visually defective hardware
• 9 percent used snap hooks that opened while being tested
• 9 percent had knotted webbing
Clearly, a proactive approach is needed if workers continue to be seriously injured in falls with equipment that initially passed inspection. Safety directors and supervisors need to make a concentrated effort to take such equipment out of the hands of those working at dangerous heights. If there is any question about the equipment, it is best to err on the side of safety.
Important considerations for maximum protection from severe falls:
- Note warnings – Read all instructions and warnings contained on the product and packaging.
- Inspection – Equipment needs too be inspected before each use.
- Training – Training by a competent person should assist workers in the proper use of all fall protection equipment
- Regulations – Know federal, state, local and provincial regulations regarding fall protection before selecting and using equipment.
- Rescue plan – A plan to reduce reaction time between a fall and medical attention is vitally important. A rescue plan should be made before using fall protection equipment.
- System components – Make sure components are fully compatible with each other. Fall arrest systems are designed and tested as complete systems and should be used as such.
- After a fall – If a fall occurs, remove all components of the fall arrest system involved.
Below are some examples of the kind of care that should be performed to help ensure equipment safety.
• Nylon and polyester: For nylon or polyester, remove all surface dirt with a dampened sponge. Squeeze the sponge dry and dip it in a mild water solution of commercial soap or detergent. Get a thick lather with a vigorous back and forth motion and then use a clean cloth to wipe Hang up and dry completely. Stay away from excessive heat and close exposure to steam or long periods of sunlight.
• Lanyard inspection: Look for hook and eye distortions, cracks, corrosion or pitted surfaces. The keeper (latch) should seat into the nose without binding. It should not be distorted or obstructed. The keeper spring should have enough force to firmly close the keeper. Keeper locks need to prevent the keeper from opening when the keeper closes. For thimbles, they must be firmly seated in the eye of the splice. The splice should have no loose or cut strands. The thimble edges must not have sharp edges, distortion or cracks.
• Wire rope lanyard: Be sure to wear gloves when inspecting a wire rope lanyard. Broken strands can hurt you. Rotate the wire rope lanyard and watch for cuts and frayed areas or unusual wearing patterns on the wire. Broken strands will separate from the lanyard body.
• Web lanyard: While bending webbing over a pipe or mandrel, look at each side of the webbed lanyard. This will reveal any cuts, snags or breaks. Swelling, discoloration, cracks and charring indicate chemical or heat damage. Look for any breaks in stitching. Inspect lanyard warning flag for signs of activation.
• Rope lanyard: Rotate while inspecting from end-to-end for any fuzzy, worn, broken or cut fibers. Weakened areas from extreme loads will appear as a noticeable change in original diameter. The rope diameter should be uniform throughout after a short break-in period.
• Shock absorber pack: The outer portion of the pack should be inspected for burn holes and tears. Stitching on areas where the pack is sewn to D-rings, belts or lanyards should be eyed for loose strands, rips, deterioration or other signs of activation.
• Shock-absorbing lanyard: Shock-absorbing lanyards should be examined like a web lanyard as previously noted. But also look for the warning flag or signs of deployment. If the flag has been activated, remove it from service.
• Check housing: Inspect the unit’s housing before every use for loose fasteners and bent, cracked, distorted, worn, malfunctioning or damaged parts.
• Lifeline: Test the lifeline retraction and tension by pulling out several feet of the lifeline and let it retract into the unit. Maintain a light tension on the lifeline as it retracts. The lifeline should pull out freely and retract all the way back into the unit. Do not use the unit if the lifeline does not retract. The lifeline should be checked regularly for damage. Inspect for cuts, burns, corrosion, kinks, frays or worn areas. Inspect any sewing (web lifelines) for loose, broken or damaged stitching.
• Braking mechanism: The braking mechanism can be tested by grabbing the lifeline above the load indicator and applying a sharp steady pull downward. This will engage the brakes. There should be no lifeline slippage while brakes are engaged. Once tension is released, the brakes will disengage and the unit will return to the retractable mode. Do not use the unit if the brakes do not engage.
• Check the hardware: The snap hook load indicator is located in the swivel of the snap hook. The swivel eye will elongate and expose a red area when subjected to fall arresting forces. Do not use the unit if the load impact indicator has been activated.
• Snap hook: Check the snap hook to ascertain that it operates freely, that it locks, and the swivel operates smoothly. Inspect the snap hook for signs of damage to the keepers, and for any bent, cracked or distorted components.
• Anchorage connection: See to it that the carabiner is properly seated and in the locked position between the attachment swivel/point on the device and the anchor point.