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Fall Protection: Proper Care & Cleaning is Vital

By: Maureen Paraventi

It’s tempting, when a worker is about to begin a shift, for her to don fall protection equipment without carefully scrutinizing it. It’s probably fine. Besides, she wants to get started. Likewise, at the end of a long shift, a worker may toss the fall protection he’s just removed into a locker or a vehicle, or leave it at the jobsite – perhaps out of doors, where it’ll be exposed to the elements. After all, he’s tired, and wants to get home. The harness or lanyard he was wearing all day did its job and kept him safe. And why bother cleaning it? He doesn’t care how it looks, only how it works.

Making sure fall protection continues to keep workers safe requires inspecting it regularly and caring for it properly, so that it remains in good condition and functions as it should.


A regular inspection program will ensure that the fall protection equipment being used is in good working order. © krissada –

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health offers a useful web page explaining how to inspect and maintain personal protective equipment (PPE). In order to monitor the condition of fall protection equipment, companies should have an inspection program in place, one that includes written records of all inspections, certifications and approvals.

The worker who will be wearing the equipment should inspect it before each use. If any part of the assembly shows wear or appears to be damaged or defective, the supervisor should be notified and the equipment replaced.

Any equipment that has been involved in a fall, including ropes, should be closely examined by a competent person or the manufacturer. If there is any doubt about the condition of the equipment after a fall, it should be replaced.

In addition to pre-shift inspections, every piece of fall arrest equipment should be inspected and certified on a yearly basis — or more often — by a trained and competent person. As with pre-shift inspections, written records should also be kept for annual inspections.

Webbings should be inspected for broken fibers, pulled stitches, frayed edges, cuts or chemical damage. Tufts on the webbing surface indicate broken strands.

Buckles should have straight outer and center bars, with no distortions or sharp edges. The center bar’s corners and attachment points should overlap the buckle frame and move freely back and forth in their sockets. The roller should turn freely on the frame.

Belts should be checked for loose, distorted or broken grommets or, in grommet-less belts, for holes that are torn or elongated. Make sure no one has punched additional holes in the waist strap. Rivets should be tight, not bent and not pitted or cracked (which could indicate chemical corrosion).

Ropes should not be fuzzy, worn or broken. Cut fibers or changes in diameter could be a sign of weakness. It is especially important to test and inspect older ropes that have seen a lot of use.

Hardware should be inspected for cracks, dents, bends and rust. It should not cut into the belt or harness at any point. Make sure the “D” ring is at a 90-degree angle and that loops are not broken or stretched. Bag rings and knife snaps should be secure and tool loop rivets free of thread separation or rotting. Check for cracks, corrosion and pitted surfaces in hooks and eyes.


Storing fall protection PPE by hanging it prevents it from being bent, crushed or folded. © cat027 –

The importance of cleaning lifesaving devices goes far beyond their appearance. Substances which may degrade fall protection equipment and affect its performance could be absorbed at worksites, and should be removed as soon as possible. Additionally, keeping this and other forms of PPE clean contributes to the accuracy of visual inspections. Serious flaws may be missed if the device is covered with residue.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the equipment. General guidelines include:

  • Using a sponge and plain warm water to remove surface dirt from straps and buckles
  • Using a mild solution of water and detergent to work up a lather on the straps
  • Rinsing off the lather with clean water, using a sponge
  • Wiping the device dry
  • Hanging it to dry completely – away from direct heat and sunlight

During the cleaning process, do not use anything containing bleach, chlorine or abrasives or soak the harness or lanyard when you are rinsing out the lather. Both can cause damage.


Storing PPE correctly keeps it in good working order and also prolongs its useful life. Just as should be done after a cleaning, fall protection equipment should be hung when being stored. This keeps it from being bent, crushed or folded. It also protects it from damage caused by sharp tools. Other considerations:

  • Store it in a clean, dry area that is free of fumes and corrosive materials.
  • Make sure it is not exposed to sunlight or the elements. Exposure to UV rays can cause the materials in harnesses and lanyards to degrade.
  • Control storage so that one worker can’t use fall protection that has been adjusted to fit someone else.

Inspecting, cleaning and storing fall protection equipment correctly will ensure that it remains in good condition and is able to protect workers from falls. It can also contribute to the longevity of equipment, thus protecting a company’s investment in it. WMHS


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