Personal Protective Equipment: Inspection, Storage, and Maintenance

The equipment that use at height can be referred to as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Each competent person is expected to have an appropriate level of knowledge and ability to inspect PPE before its use, store it properly and maintain it.

Inspection Intervals

  • Pre-UseCheck
    • Performed by a competent person before each use, often in the morning as part of opening procedures and/or while lying out equipment for yourself or your guest.
  • Periodic
    • Monthly or more/less frequently depending on the volume of your operation and other factors.
    • Conducted by staff with experience beyond basic training (i.e. Level 2 staff or course manager)
  • Annual or more frequent Professional Inspection
    • Conducted by a “Qualified Person”
    • Typically this is a Certified ACCT Professional Inspector representing your Professional Vendor Member (PVM)
  • Special Inspection
    • Triggered by a big weather event, product recall, accident, trend of near misses, etc.
  • Continuous
    • As work at height professionals, we should all be ever vigilant in looking out for PPE defects

Inspection Techniques

  • Inspectors Motto: Always Assume Something is Wrong.
    • Working off this assumption rather than a mentality of “I’m sure it’s fine” will help you find defects and fend off complacency.
  • Systematic/Linear approach
    • Inspect from one end to the other, top to bottom, etc.
  • Senses– visual, tactile, auditory, smell

Function/operation test

  • i.e. does the carabiner gate close fully and easily? Does the pulley sheave roll smoothly, does the buckle close fully and securely?

Compatability

  • Is the PPE compatible with the other pieces of PPE in the overall system?

Comparison to New Item

  • When in doubt compare the item in question to a new one.

Further information on the inspection of specific PPE should be referenced in the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) specifications for that item. One should always defer to the manufacture’s guidelines. The general guidelines for inspection, store, maintenance and retirement criteria of PPE outlined here is in no way meant to replace the manufacturer specifications. The OEM specifications can be found enclosed in the original packaging and/or on the manufacturer’s website. Much of this document is based on specific criteria from Petzl as they boast the most comprehensive body of helpful information on this topic.

For the sake of simplicity this gear can be divided in to a number of broad categories to describe the basic inspection criteria:

Textile Items: such as ropes, webbing, harness straps, and lanyards, should be inspected for the following defects:

  • Compromised Function (unable to properly use or easily adjust)
  • Torn or cut
  • Glazed (appearance is “shiny and smooth”, happens when heat melts it)
  • Exceptionally “fuzzy” (indicates excessive wear)
  • Expired (past the limit of time that use is allowed by the OEM, No OEM allows for use of textile products older than 10 years, some allow for less years of use)
  • Herniated (the inside is showing on the outside, “core shot”)
  • Excessive UV damage (faded from being in the sun)
  • Spottingorstains (possiible evidence of chemical exposure)
  • “Milking” or “flattening” (in ropes, when the rope has lost its shape and integrity)
  • Percieved safety (looks worn to the point of making guest uncomfortable)

Metallic Items: such as carabiners, harness buckles, belay devices and snap clips, should be inspected for the following defects:

  • Compromised Function (carabiner does not close properly, sheaves or wheels of trolley do not spin freely)
  • Sharp edges or “burrs” (especially problematic where it might contact a textile item)
  • Bent or deformed
  • Corrosion (especially concerning when there is material loss or “pitting”)
  • Cracked or fractured
  • Has significant scoring or deep grooves (check with OEM for material loss tolerances) a tolerance of no more than 0.1mm is often given.
  • Mushrooming (when the material folds over itself to look like a mushroom cap, typically found at “point loading” locations like the bottom connection of a zip trolley)

Pulleys & Trolleys: In addition to the above metallic item defects pulleys and trolleys should be inspected for the following defects:

  • “Sheaves” or wheels don’t spin freely
  • Sheaves wobble from side to side (lateral play)
  • Making a rattling sound (i.e. it rattles)
  • Excessive grease is present

Helmets: helmets have a combination of plastics, textiles and sometimes metallic items and should be inspected accordingly. Depending on the make and model, climbing helmets will vary slightly, but the basic components are the same and should be evaluated for the following defects:

  • Compromised Function (adjustment features do not properly work: buckles, dials)
  • Cracks in shell
  • Grooves in shell(can result from interaction with fast-moving zip cable)
  • Stress marks (may indicate that the plastic has been bent)
  • Crazing (spider cracks)
  • Cracked or damaged Foam
  • Expired (past the limit of time that use is allowed by the OEM, no OEM allows for use of helmets beyond 10 years max and some allow for less years)

Gloves: leather gloves and glove pads used to protect the hands from friction/abrasion on rope and zip cables, should be evaluated for integrity and should not have holes in them. They are part of your safety system and should be treated as such. Full finger length, close-fitting gloves that allow you enough dexterity to operate carabiners but still protect your entire hand are best. Poor-fitting gloves are cumbersome to use and ¾ length gloves increase the risk of rope burn on fingertips which may cause you to lose control of the rope/cable you are managing.

Quarantine System

When an item of PPE is found to have a defect it should be quarantined and not put back into use. A quarantine bin should be available for staff to deposit but not withdraw suspect items of PPE. An effective strategy is to have a bin with an opening large enough to easily deposit items but difficult to remove them.

Consider a labeling system that may include: Name, Date, suspected defect. Items suspected of chemical exposure should not be placed in general quarantine bin potentially exposing other gear to contaminates.

Periodically, a qualified person can audit the quarantine bin to decide which items of PPE should be retired, which need maintenance, and which can be put back into service. The tagging system allows the qualified person to be able to have a specific conversation with the person who quarantined the item.

Note: An exceptional event can lead to the retirement of a product after only one use, depending on the type and intensity of usage and the environment of use (harsh environments, sharp edges, extreme temperatures, chemical products, etc). If there is ever any doubt about the integrity of a piece of PPE, it must be removed from circulation and quarantined. Additionally, gear should be retired if it has been subjected to a major fall (or load), its full usage history or in-service date is unknown, or it becomes obsolete due to changes in legislation, standards, technique, or incompatibility with other equipment, etc.

Storage and Maintenance of PPE

There are many types of PPE, but for the sake of simplicity they can be divided up into categories to describe the basics of care and cleaning. These are general instructions and are never meant to replace OEM recommendations. Always defer to the OEM for care of your equipment. Treat all PPE and rescue equipment with respect and care-your life depends on it.

The number 1 most overlooked consideration for all your PPE’s storage that will drastically affect its life span is ventilation. Storing even slightly damp PPE with poor ventilation for a very short period can result in corrosion, mildew, mold etc. that will at the least reduce the life of the product and result in the need to retire the PPE.

Textile Items: such as ropes, webbing, harness straps, and lanyards.

  • Storage
    • Store clean, dry, well ventilated and away from heat sources.
    • Limit exposure to UV rays (do not store or dry in the direct sun)
    • Do not expose to harsh chemicals, especially bleach, fuels or battery acid
    • Avoid contact with bug spray, sunscreen, bodily fluids, and food
    • Keep clean, away from mud, sand or other abrasive materials
    • Do not stand or walk on textile items
    • Keep away from open flame, including cigarettes
    • Keep away from rodents and other animals
  • Maintenance
    • Cleaning
      • Wash in lukewarm water (86°F / 30°C max)
      • When needed, wash in lukewarm soapy water and rinse thoroughly with clean tap water.
      • Use only mild, non-detergent soaps, ideally pH neutral. Never use solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. Consider a product specific soap such as “rope wash”. Consult with OEM for approved soaps.
      • Use a soft bristled brush as needed for difficult spots (i.e dirt/mud on harness, chin strap of helmets).
      • A fan is very useful in speeding the drying process.
      • Do not use a heater to speed up the drying process.
      • Do not use a high-pressure washer

Metallic items: such as carabiners, harness buckles, lobster claws, trolleys, pulleys, and belay spools

  • Storage
    • Store in a dry, well ventilated place
  • Maintenance
    • Cleaning
      • Wipe down with a rag to remove excess dirt
      • Use compressed air to remove dirt from moving parts (carabiner hinges)

▪ Consider periodic lubrication per the OEM guidelines (See Below) If absolutely necessary, you may wash in lukewarm water and a soft bristled brush. A fan is very useful in speeding the drying process. Do not use a heater to speed up the drying process. Do not use a high-pressure washer.

  • Lubrication
  • Carabiners
    • Lubricate hinges to restore spring action.
    • After lubrication, wipe excess oil clear with a rag
    • Do not use WD40 as this will attract dirt
    • Do not use dry grapHite as this will build up over time
    • Use a 3-in-1 oil or what the OEM recommends
  • Pulleys/Trolleys
    • Sealed bearings do not require lubrication
    • Check with OEM for specifics

Sanding/FilingBurrs

  • Consult with the OEM for tolerances of material loss and approved maintenance of sharp edges.
  • Generally speaking most OEM’s allow for using fine grit sandpaper to round sharp edges or burrs to make them friendlier to interacting textile items. Total material loss shall be no more than 0.1mm.

Marking

  • Consult with the OEM for approved marking strategies
  • Generally speaking most OEM’s allow for engraving unique identifiers with an engraving pen on the frame next to serial numbers is approved. Depth of engraving must be less than 0.1mm.
  • Do not stamp or punch.
  • You may use tape or a small amount of paint (paint pen or metal writing paint, do not spray paint). Be sure to put in a place that will not interfere with intended operation of PPE.

Helmets:

  • Storage
    • See above storage criteria for textile and metallic items.
    • Consider hanging system to maximize ventilation.

o Do not sit on or compress (stacking loads of helmets compresses) Do not put stickers, paint, marker or any adhesive for after-market additions directly on helmet shell. Stickers can hide defects and solvents could damage integrity of the shell. Use only stickers supplied by the OEM. Maintenance

  • Cleaning
    • Consider routine disinfecting/cleaning with a cloth lightened moistened by rubbing alcohol. Do not submerge helmet in alcohol.
    • Routinely wash in lukewarm water (86°F / 30°C max)
    • When needed, wash in lukewarm soapy water and rinse thoroughly with clean tap water.
    • Use only mild, non-detergent soaps, ideally pH neutral. Never use solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. Consider a product specific soap such as “rope wash”. Consult with OEM for approved soaps. Petzl has specific approved cleaners from Ecolab.
    • Use a soft-bristled brush as needed for difficult spots
    • A fan is very useful in speeding the drying process.
    • Do not use a heater to speed up the drying process.
    • Do not use a high-pressure washer

Marking

  • Consult OEM for approved marking strategy
  • Generally speaking, marking is only recommended on comfort components and not on safety components.
  • Do not write/paint directly on shell of helmet.

Repair

  • Many helmets have replaceable parts including but not limited to: comfort foam components, buckles, headlamp holders, etc.
  • Consider repairing helmets to OEMs recommendations before retiring.

Transport

Care should be taken when transporting all PPE. It is always preferable to have PPE inside of a clean container during transport to protect against potential contaminates (i.e. never put directly into a truck bed). Beware of temperature extremes from leaving PPE in a hot car, or traveling by train, plane, and boat. If you ever have doubts about improper transport of your PPE, retire it.