Ensuring employees have access to the correct safety equipment for the job they are carrying out is a legal requirement for businesses. Nowhere is this more vital than in tasks which require work at height. The ability to provide this crucial equipment when needed should be factored into every company’s fall prevention and safety plans.
However, your responsibility does not end with simply providing this equipment. Fall protection systems naturally deteriorate over time through use, and even misuse, and will eventually become unusable no matter how durable. Once the equipment has deteriorated to the point that it might endanger the user’s safety, it must be replaced.
In some cases, there are companies that may be tempted to hold on to unsuitable equipment as a cost saving measure. But by doing this, they are failing in their duty to provide suitable equipment, and worse, putting employees’ lives at risk. If an accident occurs, the business could be found at fault for failing to meet their responsibilities.
Keep in mind: when the quality of equipment is compromised, productivity is also affected, and lives can be ruined. Nobody wins.
With all these things considered, how often should you replace your fall safety equipment?
When do you know it’s time to replace safety equipment?
There is no exact timetable or standard lifespan for safety equipment. The best way to ensure defective equipment is not in use is to carry out frequent inspections and immediately remove pieces which no longer provide adequate protection.
Here are some tell-tale signs that equipment needs to be replaced:
1. Permanent physical changes to the structure of equipment
This includes rips, tears, rust, cracks, mildew, deformation, holes, degrading, and any other signs of excessive wear and defects. Safety equipment should also be replaced if any discoloration or soiling is found to compromise the material.
2. Reports about unusual equipment behaviour
If you are receiving consistent accounts from employees about equipment malfunction, assess the item in question right away and replace it if needed. Take this opportunity to communicate the importance of reporting faulty equipment with your employees if you have yet to do so. Create a system for inspecting safety equipment and train your workers to employ it before putting any piece of safety equipment on.
3. A history of failure
Safety equipment that has been associated with accidents, or was reported to have caused accidents, must be retired immediately, regardless of whether or not the equipment looks in good condition.
4. Elapsed lifespan
The equipment has been used beyond the industry-recommended lifetime, or the manufacturing guidelines indicated by the supplier. Most equipment will have this information presented on an attached label. If these labels are faded or are similarly unreadable, you should seriously consider a replacement.
In the absence of direct suggestions from the supplier, you can follow these general guidelines:
- Soft goods have a maximum life of 10 years.
- Products can be used in the field for a maximum of five years, subject to a satisfactory minimum 12-month inspection period.
- (Note that these inspections can be more frequent in the case of more hostile environments, such as ones involving caustic chemicals.)
- Fall Protection Systems such as horizontal lifelines are required to have annual inspections in accordance with EN 365 and the Work at Height Regulations Regulation 12 (Schedule 2 – 8 ).
- Roof guardrails are included in the schedules detailed above and, for permanent guardrails, the Work Place Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations (Reg 5).
What influences shelf life?
Aside from the expiration date, other factors can contribute to shortening the usability of fall safety equipment, which can compromise any fall protection plan you might have in place. These plans should be dynamic and updated to take into account any unforeseen changes.
The following can negatively influence the shelf life of safety equipment and mean replacement sooner than you might expect:
1. Improper fitting
If equipment that is supposed to snugly fit around a person’s body is not properly shaped to its user, there will be an imbalance of tensions exerted upon the straps and buckles. These can lead to the item becoming defective much faster. Additionally, ill-fitting safety equipment is likely to be uncomfortable to wear. Consider immediate replacement.
2. Wearing equipment outside of its intended use
There should be zero tolerance for using equipment outside of its intended purpose. Employ the appropriate training and policy so that your team won’t consider doing this. Next, immediately replace such equipment if it shows signs of degradation from the unauthorized usage.
3. Poor maintenance
Maintenance procedures and guidelines should be provided by the supplier, and not following them can negatively impact the lifespan of your equipment.
4. Exposure to harsh conditions
Even momentary exposure to conditions that are beyond the recommended purpose can damage safety equipment. It is advisable to anticipate and prepare for such conditions at the planning stage of the project, and use equipment that is better-suited.
How to make the most of your safety equipment?
There are several things you can do to get the most out of your equipment. By doing your due diligence and creating a system to facilitate its acquisition, care, and maintenance, even before a project starts, you can maximize the lifespan of any equipment you purchase.
1. Only buy good-quality equipment from reputable suppliers
These systems are guaranteed to withstand various conditions for longer. Additionally, a reputable supplier is more likely to provide equipment that performs exactly as promised, as anything less would damage their hard-won reputation. Contrast this against a supplier with no accreditations, who might offer a lower rate, but has very little clout to lose if you publicly complain about any faulty items.
2. Train workers so they know proper equipment usage and inspection processes
Create and enforce an easy-to-follow yet comprehensive system for your people to follow.
3. Ensure equipment is thoroughly cleaned and stored properly
Safety equipment will last longer if it is maintained according to the supplier’s instructions. Take the time to review these instructions and integrate them into employee training.
4. Have the equipment undergo recertification
This involves a reevaluation process that highlights any changes that might have occurred in your equipment since the last assessment. This globally-recognized Best Practice Guidance document is a good reference to follow for recertification.
Regular inspection is the first step in ensuring you maintain the highest standard of safety with your equipment. If the system does not pass any of the checks above, it’s time to replace it. The Workplace Safety Council provides guidelines that go into detail about the inspection process.
You should spare no effort in making sure you source and maintain the right safety equipment for your team. Partner up with an established supplier that can provide you with not just the best equipment, but also all necessary assistance to help create a safety structure for inspection and maintenance.
At Kee Safety, we offer a globally recognized range of safety equipment that caters to any site-specific fall protection plan. We have a reliable stock inventory so companies can come to us and have their equipment replaced immediately, when needed, to maximize safety and productivity.
Our team of experts also allow us to offer annual recertification inspections for all our products to help customers assess whether their equipment is still safe to use. Aside from replacing existing equipment, we can also provide supplementary site surveys to ensure all bases are covered.
For more information, call us on +65 6385 4166, or use our online contact form.