Safety harnesses and lanyards are amongst the most important pieces of equipment that are used when working at height. Keeping these critical pieces of fall protection equipment (FPE) in full working order is not only essential to the safety of workers, but is also a legal requirement.
The following article will aim to explain the laws regarding harness and lanyard use and provide guidance as to how to make sure they continue to be fit for purpose.
Workplace Regulations for Safety Harnesses & Lanyards
There are no specific legislative requirements that specify the timescales within which FPE should be replaced. However, in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992, employers are required to always ensure that all height safety equipment, inclusive of safety harnesses, are maintained in a good condition. Furthermore, the Work at Height Regulations 2005, specifies that any safety equipment that will deteriorate through use must be inspected at suitable intervals. When it becomes evident that a piece of kit is no longer safe for use, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that replacement kit is provided..
If damage is found to have occurred when an equipment inspection takes place, then the piece of equipment in question must be replaced or repaired. However, it is often the case that repair is uneconomical and replacement is usually the most viable option. If neither of these actions are undertaken, then the use of this equipment becomes illegal.
Manufacturer's’ Advice on FPE Inspections
When FPE is first purchased, it will come with advice from the manufacturer in regards to usage and maintenance. Manufacturers will suggest that safety harnesses will generally only have a working life of five years, although this is not a legally specified time limit. It is also advised by many manufacturers that if you are unable to locate details of the manufacturing date of a specific harness, then it is advisable to destroy that harness. BS EN 365:2004 specifies that equipment should be provided with its own unique serial number this to give the item full traceability and assist with inspection.
In order to inspect FPE, it is useful to first check the stitching for weaknesses as well as checking for general degradation of the webbing material. The function of all parts that move should also be checked to be sure that the full range of motion is still possible. Other checks should consider:
Even minor damage to the stitching can eventually become a much more serious problem and should be addressed as soon as it is noticed. Fall protection equipment should never be used if an inspection has not taken place prior to use. Once an inspection has taken place on an item of FPE, a record should be made. The results of these inspections should always be safely documented and stored. It is the responsibility of the person in charge to make these inspection results readily available to any enforcing authority that requests them.
HSE guidelines recommend a documented inspection by a competent person every 6 months, but for some activities, e.g. scaffolding, it is recommended that this interval is reduced to every three months due to the harsh environment in which the equipment is being used.
In addition to the documented inspections, FPE users should carry out pre-use inspections of their equipment and report any damage that is identified, immediately.
What can cause damage to safety harnesses?
Strong sunlight and damp conditions can contribute to the degradation of FPE. If any of the components are buckled, twisted or misshapen, this is often a sign that it has been used in a fall arrest scenario and it should not be used again. Natural wear and tear will also occur over time making ongoing inspection essential and mandatory.
Leach’s is a trading name of “Beacon Group International Products Limited” registered in England and Wales, No. 8270847. Registered address: Hampton House, High Street, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 3AW