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What to Look for When Inspecting Your Fall Safety PPE

Fall safety PPE is some of the most important gear you use and must be inspected carefully and thoroughly.

By Rick Pedley, Contributor

OSHA specifies that fall safety PPE needs to be inspected before each use and at least annually by a competent, well-trained person who knows exactly what to look for.

Before you use your equipment for the day, inspect for damaged or defective gear and immediately remove it from service. Gear that has already been used in a fall should be properly discarded afterwards. An example would be cutting the webbing on a harness and removing hooks on lanyards. It’s helpful to think of fall protection equipment as a system of several smaller parts rather than a single whole piece. If any one of the individual components of the system isn’t working, the entire system is compromised.

Consider the five following problem areas before you put your gear on to determine whether it’s time to discard and replace it.

Impact Indicators

The visual impact indicator is one of the most straightforward features of fall safety harnesses and lanyards, which makes it one of the first things you should inspect. The impact indicators will appear when a force of 450-650 lbs. has been applied. Once deployed, impact indicators cannot be repaired or re-set.

There are typically two types of impact indicators found on harnesses. The first is incorporated into the harness D-ring. After a fall, the visual impact indicator is deployed, and the D-ring is retained within the harness webbing. The second is folded and stitched in the harness webbing. After a fall, the stitches tear and the webbing unfolds. Remove the harness from service, even if the rest of it looks fine.

Tagging and Labeling Systems

Hopefully, you reviewed the guidelines from the manufacturer when you first got your equipment – potentially even before purchasing it – but inspections are a great time to brush up on the particulars and ensure you really know them. Losing the instruction isn’t an excuse to avoid inspections because many manufacturers will have them readily available for download on their websites. In addition to these instructions, the fall protection harness itself must have a tag or label on it with the following information:

  • Identification for the harness itself
  • Model
  • Date of manufacture
  • Manufacturer’s name
  • Equipment limitations
  • Warnings

If this tag is illegible or missing, the gear should be removed from service immediately. The label contains too much useful and relevant information to risk using equipment that might be past its service life or otherwise compromised. If the fall safety PPE looks fine but is past its service life according to the manufacturer, it needs to be discarded and replaced.

Webbing and Stitching

Closely inspect the webbing, stitching, and other fibers on your fall safety gear that includes harnesses and lanyards. Grab the fibers in your hands and bend them to check both sides for damage and cuts—just looking at them won’t reveal this kind of damage; they must be handled. Look for these signs of damage as well:

  • Cuts
  • Broken fibers
  • Deterioration
  • Modifications
  • Fraying
  • Uneven thickness
  • Hard or shiny spots
  • Missing, pulled, or cut stitches
  • Hard, shiny, or discolored stitches

You should pay particular attention to areas that see a lot of friction, such as places where D-rings rub against the webbing or stitches and eventually lead to fraying or abrasion.

Metal Hardware

This will include buckles, grommets, D-rings, and other metal components on the harness and fall protection system. The D-rings should pivot freely. Buckles need to connect and adjust properly. Ensure that these parts are free from damage, alterations, or contamination. This contamination can take a few different forms:

  • Deep rust
  • Corrosion
  • Sharp edges
  • Cracks
  • Wear
  • Deformation

Any amount of damage is suspect when it comes to fall protection PPE. Even if the rust doesn’t look particularly extensive, there could be more severe, underlying damage beneath it. At a minimum, this equipment should be set aside where it can’t be mistakenly used.

Cleanliness and Storage

Spot-cleaning your fall safety gear is as simple as using a damp sponge to wipe off surface dirt. You can use water and mild detergent for deeper dirt and dry it with a clean cloth. Ensure you hang it up to dry fully away from excessive heat, steam, or sunlight. Your storage should be as neat as possible and in a clean, dry, dark, and cool area. Avoid storing your equipment in areas with fumes, direct UV light, sunlight, corrosive materials, or batteries. Storage areas should also be free from dust, dirt, and oils that could degrade the equipment.

What to Do with Unusable PPE

It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to fall safety and prevention. If there’s anything suspicious about your fall safety harness and PPE, it should be discarded and replaced immediately.

Safety harnesses and lanyards cannot be repaired once they’ve been involved in a fall or become damaged, so do not try to make repairs. Avoid leaving any damaged fall safety PPE where it can be mistakenly used or stored with working gear again. Cutting the straps off harnesses and hooks and connectors off lanyards will render them unusable.

PPE of all kinds can only protect the person wearing it when it’s in optimal working order, used properly, and cared for. Equipment that is worn out or damaged has already performed its job and can’t be trusted to protect you or anyone else ever again. At the same time, some types of retractable lifelines can be removed from service temporarily and sent back to the manufacturer or authorized service and repair center for new internal components prior to testing and return. However, you shouldn’t take for granted that your equipment can be repaired in this way without looking into it, and you absolutely should not attempt to undertake those repairs in-house.

Taking care of your equipment, performing the required inspections, and doing checks before you work each shift make the difference between whether you can go home the day of an accident. Thorough inspections help you mitigate the risk of injury and death. With all of these tips, plus the guidance your manufacturer and dealer can provide, you can ensure that your equipment is ready for your next job.

Rick Pedley is President and CEO, PK Safety (pksafety.com).

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