PPE Inspections

Inspection Intervals

  • Pre-Use Check

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 semi-annual depending on volume)

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

  • Systematic/Linear approach

Inspect from one end to the other, top to bottom, etc.

  • Senses

visual, tactile (touch), auditory, smell

  • Function/operation testing

For example: 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 compatable with the other pieces of PPE in the overall system?

  • Inspector’s Motto: Always Assume Something is Wrong.

Working off this assumption rather than a mentatlity of “I’m sure its fine” will help you find defects and fend off compaciency.

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 manufacturer’s guidelines. The general guidelines for inspection 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:


Soft Goods (textile products):

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

  • webbingCompromised 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)
  • Herniated (the inside is showing on the outside, “core shot”)
  • Excessive UV dammage (faded from being in the sun)
  • Spotting or stains (possiible evidence of chemical exposure)
  • “Milking” or “flattening” (in ropes, when the rope has lost itsshape and integrity)
  • Perceived safety (looks worn to the point of making guests uncomfortable)

snap clipHard Goods (metal):

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 soft goods)
  • 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 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)

pulley damagePulleys & Trolleys:

In addition to the above hard good defects, pulleys and trolleys should be inspected for the following defects:

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



An item that has both hard and soft goods included in the design. Depending on the make and model, helmets will vary slightly, but the basic components are the same and should be evaluated for the following defects:

  • helmet buckleCompromised function (components such as adjustment features, buckles, dials do not work properly)
  • 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)
  • Cracked or missing foam
  • Expired (past the limit of time that use is allowed by the OEM)


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 could potentially ncrease the risk of rope burn on finger tips 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 quanantine 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 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.