Wear and Tear: The Basics of Safety Equipment Maintenance


As fall protection continues to take center stage in construction related injuries and fatalities, safety inspectors are called on to underscore the importance of equipment maintenance. For employers, this means quite simply, that it is not enough to provide the correct equipment, train employees on the proper use but to inspect and maintain the safety equipment before each use.

Says Justin Heddinger, site inspector at Diversified Safety Services, a large part of his on-site consultations involve damaged equipment. “Too often we see harnesses with holes or cuts, misuse of extension cords, and general wear and tear of equipment that is vital in fall protection.”

The OSHA website states:

  • Visual inspection before each use should become routine, and also a routine inspection by a competent person. For example, a harness maintenance should include:
  • Inspection for frayed edges, broken fibers, pulled stitches, cuts or chemical damange. The D-ring bar should be a 90-degree angle with the long axis of the belt and should pivot freely.
  • Buckle tongues should be free of distortion in shape and motion. They should overlap the buckle frame and move freely back and forth in their socket.

A complete list of the types of fall safety equipment and how to inspect them before use, (including harnesses, rope and web laynards, and Retractable Lifeline Systems) are found on the OSHA web site.

When considering the wear and tear of your fall protection equipment, experts advise considering the following elements:

  • Heat. In excessive heat, nylon becomes brittle and has a shriveled brownish appearance. Fibers will break when flexed and should not be used above 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Chemical. Change in color usually appears as a brownish smear or smudge. Transverse cracks appear when belt is bent over tight. This causes a loss of elasticity in the belt.
  • Ultraviolet Rays. Do not store webbing and rope lanyards in direct sunlight, because ultraviolet rays can reduce the strength of some material.
  • Molten Metal or Flame. Webbing and rope strands may be fused together by molten metal or flame. Watch for hard, shiny spots or a hard and brittle feel. Webbing will not support combustion, nylon will.
  • Paint and Solvents. Paint will penetrate and dry, restricting movements of fibers. Drying agents and solvents in some paints will appear as chemical damage.

Diversified Safety Services reminds its clients that failure to maintain protective equipment can result in hefty fines: An Omaha, Neb. Company was recently cited nearly $120,000, largely for poor equipment maintenance. An OSHA report such as this will cite violations that could include:

Failure to tag or remove from use unsafe equipment or machinery; absent or deficient guardrail or stair rail systems; deficiencies in the lockout/tagout of potentially hazardous energy sources; inadequate or missing machine guarding; equipment used for compressed air in disrepair; unlabeled and unguarded electric wiring; absence of hazard communication; lack of jobsite inspections; and failure to ensure that personal protective equipment was used.

A safety audit is an excellent proactive start to ensure these sorts of violations do not occur and that regular inspections become an integrated part of your safety planning. For more information, contact Diviersified Safety Services.


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