Research by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) on lanyard degradation has highlighted the importance of proper inspections for fall arrest equipment.

The research project investigated the causes and effects of degradation of man-made textiles used in lanyards. It found that a significant loss of webbing strength in lanyards can occur in a variety of ways, particularly by the ingress of dirt, minor physical damage and ultra violet (UV) light exposure.

The project was motivated by two fatalities; one at Edenderry power station in the Irish Republic in December 1999, resulting from the failure of an energy-absorbing lanyard; and another during work on an overhead tower in Flixton, Greater Manchester, caused by the failure of a work positioning belt in January 2000.

An energy-absorbing lanyard is a line for connecting a full body harness to an anchorage point with an inbuilt device that reduces the impact of a fall.

Martin Holden, a principal specialist Inspector with HSE’s Technology Division, said: ‘The research shows the vital importance of pre-use checks and regular documented inspections of fall arrest equipment. A one millimetre deep nick or cut in the edge of a webbing lanyard can result in between 5% to 39% loss of strength. Ingress of dirt and UV can also cause damage to the fibres of the webbing, resulting in a similar loss of strength.’

Holden continued: ‘Lanyards are widely used in many industrial sectors and employers must have formal procedures in place to detect damage and defects early. We recommend pre-use checks and detailed inspections at least every six months, or if used frequently or in arduous environments, every three months. Workers should check their lanyards regularly before use and know what to look for, but if in doubt they should contact the manufacturer/supplier. Lanyards should be treated with care, not dragged on the ground or allowed to get dirty and must never be wrapped around sharp or angled surfaces.’

The HSE warned tht other defects and damage which have the potential to result in the degradation and/or weakening of lanyards are: • a knot in the lanyard, other than those intended by the manufacturer • surface abrasion across the face of the webbing and at the webbing loops • abrasion at the edges • cuts to the webbing, rope or stitching • contact with chemicals which can result in local weakening and softening • heat or friction damage • damaged or deformed fittings • partially deployed energy absorber (e.g. short pull-out of tear webbing).

Falls from height continue to be the most common kind of accident associated with fatal injuries to workers in the UK. In 2000/1 25% cent of accidents involved falls from height.