Under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, employers are required to identify workplace hazards, and take reasonable steps to eliminate, isolate or reduce them. In the context of outdoor education, the organisation also has a “duty of care” extending to anyone who undertakes a course under its auspices.
This document is primarily concerned with the safety of equipment used for abseiling, climbing, and high ropes activities, and no doubt has some application to equipment used by rescue teams, as well as those working at height.
During the last decade the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) has produced a series of standards for climbing equipment. World-wide there is little else available in climbing equipment standards, although the UIAA (International Federation of Alpine Clubs) has long had standards for some items, such as ropes and karabiners, upon which the CEN standards are closely based.
Among other things these standards specify minimum strengths for products. In the case of harnesses a minimum strength of 15 kN (approximately 1500 kg) is required. Karabiners, slings, and quick-draws have a minimum strength of 22 kN (approximately 2200 kg).
Aside from legal obligations, most organisations wish to project a professional image, as far as possible using equipment which looks to be in good order. It is normal procedure to set up regular inspections to ensure that the equipment has not deteriorated excessively.
The CEN standard requirements and the manufacturer’s rating are of course only applicable to the equipment when it is new. Having a higher level of strength when new provides insurance against degradation of the equipment by whatever process. The purpose of regular inspection and retirement procedures is to ensure that the integrity of the item is retained, and that the strength does not fall below a safe limit, say 10 or 12 kN.
The frequency of the inspection will depend on the organisation, and could be anything from daily to yearly. A register should be kept so that the inspections can be recorded, and retirement decisions noted. Numbering of each item will normally be necessary to keep track of purchase date and usage.