Wear and tear can age your gear faster than you think.
Yvonne Cumpian, a Certified Master Trainer with United Academy, the training branch of United Rentals, asks workers to put their fall protection equipment on a table during one of her classes, and she doesn’t always like what she sees. Some of the lanyards — literally a person’s lifeline in the event of a fall — and harnesses are in sorry shape.
“The lanyards are fraying, they’re worn, just worn, worn, worn. Buckles and connectors are rusted, and right where those are, it’s fraying, getting real weak.”
Lanyards and harnesses don’t last forever. The manufacturer’s instructions will tell you the expected lifespan, but the condition of the equipment is much important than how old it is.
“Some people wear them every day all day long,” said Cumpian, and all that wear shows. In addition, she noted, “A lot of time guys throw their personal fall protection equipment in their gang box, and there’s all kinds of things that can cut and tear it. Or they leave it in the heat, or a place where it’s exposed to dirt and water and oil.” (Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing this equipment. If it gets wet, hang it to dry.)
it’s critical to check your personal fall protection equipment before each use. When you’re checking your equipment, look to see:
- Is any part worn, torn, rusted or frayed? Does it have holes? “People who weld get burn holes on their lanyard,” said Cumpian. “Slag comes down and burns holes through their clothes and also their full body harness.”
- Is the lining underneath the lanyard showing through the top? “Lanyards have a different color underneath so you can know if it’s not good anymore,” said Cumpian.
- Can you see red threads coming through the lanyard? “That’s a signal that it’s worn and you can’t use it anymore.”
- Is the harness stretched out? Does it have pulled or missing stitches?
- Is the harness mildewed?
- Are any grommets broken or distorted?
- Do the D rings pivot freely, as they should?
- Are any of the bars of the buckle bent?
- Are all the pieces there? “I’ve seen instances when someone borrows a person’s lanyard and the person doesn’t even realize it’s missing.” Check the harness for missing straps, too.
In addition to checking your equipment before each use, a competent person should inspect it at least once a year.
Replace any equipment that’s been through a fall. “Lanyards and fall protection are only good for one fall, including the D ring extender if you had one connected. Everything has to get thrown away,” said Cumpian.
Above all, pay attention to the equipment that’s meant to save your life in the event of a fall. Don’t take for granted that it will work no matter what. After all, said Cumpian, “You have families to go home to.”
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Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.