Condition, Not Time, Determines When to Replace Your Personal Fall Protection Equipment

A common question in the fall protection industry is about life spans for personal fall protection equipment and if the equipment should be replaced every five years.

As with many topics, there’s the short answer, and the more accurate, longer one. The short answer is no, you do not have to replace your equipment five years after you purchase it, especially if your fall protection equipment is stored unused in a clean, air-conditioned room with no UV exposure.

The reality, though, is more complex.

First off, set aside anything you’ve heard about a blanket five-year limit on your personal fall protection equipment’s viability. We’re talking about heavy-duty safety equipment designed to handle thousands of pounds of force, after all. The first day of year six isn’t going to make the equipment you trusted the day before suddenly unsafe. Standard authorities like OSHA and ANSI also have not specified an amount of time after which you should stop trusting your equipment, although many manufacturers will provide recommended lifespans for their products.

Perhaps, then, wondering how long to wait before replacing old equipment is the right idea, but is “how long” the right question? Instead of asking when to replace your equipment, try becoming more familiar with the conditions and warning signs that warrant replacement.

On this topic, ANSI has staked out its position. Their A10.32-2012 standard says that “fall protection equipment shall be removed from service upon evidence of defects, damage or deterioration.” Further, ANSI/ASSE Z359.2-2007 American National Standards Section 5.5.2 states that:

Fall protection equipment shall be inspected by the authorized person at least once at the beginning of each eight-hour shift in which it is used to verify that it has not sustained any wear or damage that would require its removal from service. Fall protection and fall rescue equipment shall be inspected on a regular basis not to exceed one year (or more frequently if required by the manufacturer’s instructions) by a competent person or a competent rescuer, as appropriate, to verify that the equipment is safe for use. (Emphasis added)

The two emphasized phrases above are critical. The first states that the equipment must be inspected each and every time it’s deployed for use. It has to be a habit, a reflex, and part of the routine for working at height. Train your staff on how to look for potential fall hazards and on how to inspect their fall protection equipment. Assuming that the equipment is fine or relying on an inspection from earlier could be fatal. Inspecting your equipment includes ensuring that all stitching on the harnesses is not damaged and is fully intact, there aren’t signs of wear on the nylon, and the material around the grommets, if used, is not damaged. Ensure that self-retracting lifelines can freely retract from the housing and that the entire lifeline is not damaged in any way. Look for grease, burns, or cuts on your lifeline, etc. A few minutes spent doing an inspection can be the difference between sending everyone home safely and having an incident.

The second point of emphasis is to have regular inspections by a Competent Person. Although OSHA has not set formal standards for competence, they define a competent person as:

One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. By way of training and/or experience, a competent person is knowledgeable of applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, and has the authority to correct them.

In other words, periodic inspections at a minimum of before each use, annually by a competent person, and per the manufacturer’s instructions on the state of your equipment is necessary to ensure that it is still workable, and by extension, that it will still fully protect your employees.

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