Whether you climb professionally or for fun, you probably use fall protection equipment to prevent a dangerous accident. However, while many utilize these tools for various activities, not everyone inspects them properly before use. These inspections allow you to catch potential damage before it can put you at risk. As such, they’re crucial for keeping you safe in dangerous conditions. So, before you decide to suit up for a climb, learn how to inspect fall protection equipment and preserve your safety.
The Frequency of Inspections
Though it’s common knowledge that you should regularly inspect your gear, it’s unclear how often these inspections should take place and what exactly to look for. It’s for this reason that individuals commonly forget to perform this task or fail to inspect each component thoroughly enough.
For those using fall protection equipment professionally, they must check their gear before every climb. You want to ensure that it can handle a day’s worth of stress. A qualified job site manager or climber should do these inspections to make sure that each component meets the designated workplace standards. In addition, each harness should undergo a six-month inspection to gauge whether they require replacement. Official safety professionals often conduct six-month inspections and cover practices relating to the storing and cleaning of the equipment.
For individuals that use fall protection equipment recreationally, your tools will likely spend most of their time in storage. While this may lead you to believe this preserves them for future use, fabric components, such as lanyards and belts, can still deteriorate when not stored properly. As such, it’s crucial that you take the time to inspect your harnesses before each use to cut down on the risk of breakage. If possible, you should also have another individual look over your harness to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
The Inspection Process
While knowing how to inspect fall protection equipment seems straightforward enough, it’s important to not become complacent in this task. If you do this, it can cause you to miss crucial details and unknowingly risk your safety during a climb. This is especially the case for lineman belts and construction harnesses as they have more security components. So, be sure to check these sections thoroughly and respond accordingly if you happen to find a problem.
Manufacturers strongly weave the webbing of your harness lanyards to handle everything from your body weight to the working conditions. However, prolonged exposure to the elements can deteriorate the fibers and cause them to fray. Signs of fraying ultimately mean that the webbing is weak and can no longer hold your weight. Fortunately, fraying is one of the most noticeable signs of damage, and you can find it by creating surface tension on the webbing.
In addition to fraying, there could also be signs of stretching, tearing, and bleaching from chemicals. These conditions are also responsible for weakening the webbing fibers, making it crucial that you store your equipment properly to limit exposure.
Stitching and Threading
When finished with the webbing, begin examining the seams where the belts wrap around the metal buckles. Due to the weight pulling on these areas, they’re often prone to have pulled or ripped stitches. If not caught, these things can make your harness unravel and put you at risk. Since these areas have open threads, they also commonly receive a lot of heat and electrical damage—evident by discoloration and hard spots along the fabric.
Next, you must check the official tags on your equipment for legibility. Each of these tags identifies the model, date of manufacturing, and product limitations. As such, these labels are crucial for keeping the product within its usable limits. Since each harness is different from the next, these tags need to remain in a readable condition to keep the user informed.
Many of these tags also contain information on a product’s service life. This time frame gives the user an idea of how long they can regularly wear the piece before you should replace it. While this number is an estimate and can vary based on how heavily you use the item, professionals recommend you adhere to these guidelines for optimal safety.
Once you’re through checking the fabric components, turn your attention to the metal buckles and D-rings. This hardware is essential for redistributing your weight along the straps, allowing you to move without feeling restricted and ensures you’re secure in midair. Though these parts are often the hardest to damage, improper storage can leave them rusted and cracked. In the long run, this can make them brittle and vulnerable to the elements.
When checking these components, take note of any corrosion, bending, or sharp edges. These damages can restrict your movement and accelerate the deterioration of the harness. It’s for this reason that you should immediately replace any faulty parts or purchase a replacement.
When Equipment Fails Inspection
Though your equipment will pass inspection if you care for it properly, it’s still important to know how to respond when it doesn’t. Under no circumstances should you use damaged equipment—you should immediately fix or replace it.
If the damage isn’t severe or isn’t affecting the entire piece’s stability, then one option is to repair it. However, remember that the fixed version isn’t going to be as strong as the original. You’ll need to keep a critical eye on the area in question for new damages. Once the stitches become frayed, that area of belt significantly weakens, making repairs only a temporary fix. Contact the harness’s retailer or manufacturer to discuss the damage the product amassed and determine if repair or replacement is necessary.
Typically, the better alternative is to simply replace the entire piece of equipment. This will ensure that it hasn’t sustained any previous damage and each component is strong enough to handle a job. It’s important to replace your harness, in particular, as it will directly support your weight and catch you if you fall. When going to purchase a new harness, be sure to perform an additional inspection to confirm that you’re buying a quality product.
To get the most out of your equipment inspection process, reach out to Midwest Unlimited. Our knowledgeable and helpful professionals can inform you of what to look out for during your inspections and which products can best fulfill your needs. We can provide you with the tools to keep you safe—no matter the job, and no matter the conditions.