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Take a look at the following picture of two lanyards that were found in-use at a jobsite, and ask yourself, “What’s wrong with this picture?

What's Wrong With This Picture? (Q2 2015)

Before we go any further—hopefully you were as shocked as we were upon first seeing this picture. To emphasize why, let’s take a look at an example of how a typical lanyard looks when it is shipped out from Guardian:

6' Shock Absorbing Lanyard - Part #01220

Now, using the procedure we’ve outlined in our lanyard inspection article, let’s go through this picture step-by-step.

First, the snap hooks, which for both of these lanyards don’t appear to have any issues. While we can see some minor scratching or rust, this type of superficial damage will typically not require the unit to be removed from service. We of course aren’t able to test the closing/locking functionality of the gates, but assuming this is up to par then the snap hooks would pass inspection.

Next up in our inspection sequence would be the shock absorbers (or lack thereof), but there’s a lot to cover there, so let’s quickly first discuss the webbing and stitching.

The most visible issue with the webbing is the contamination from what looks like paint. Contamination in this manner doesn’t necessarily mean the lanyard has to be removed from service (the Competent Person will need to make that final decision), but it does present some problems for us.

What contamination like this tells us right away is that the equipment isn’t being maintained properly. The problem with contamination is that certain contaminants can degrade webbing strength over time (something that isn’t always visible), potentially resulting in diminished equipment performance. The other issue is that contamination makes it so equipment can’t be fully inspected. How, after all, can stitching integrity be inspected if the stitching is obscured by paint? In short, the solution to this problem is to clean, maintain, and store equipment with care; it will increase product lifetime, and keep workers safer.

Now, on to the shock packs. And it’s worth reemphasizing that both of these lanyards were being used in the field at the time this picture was taken.

A shock pack, very simply, is no more than folded up webbing that is then sewn together, and is contained by a plastic shrink tube. When a fall occurs, the webbing first tears out of the shrink tube, and then gradually unfolds by ripping out the specifically designed stitch pattern, both stages functioning to decelerate the fall.

The two lanyards in our picture have clearly had their shock packs deployed. The lanyard on the left has afterwards been zip-tied together in an attempt to mimic the original shock pack shape, while the lanyard on the right has been left fully deployed. Both should have immediately been removed from service the moment any deployment of the shock pack was visible.

The shock pack stitching being ripped out and the absence of the shrink tube mean these lanyards will not decelerate a fall. It’s possible they would still technically stop a fall, but the impact forces generated by doing so would be substantially higher than the maximum 1,800 lbs. permitted by OSHA.

Not only would an OSHA inspector immediately issue fines if they saw these lanyards in use, but of greater concern is that the fall would in all likelihood result in significant injury to the user. Being subjected to forces of fall arrest when using the correct equipment is at best uncomfortable, but when using incorrect or damaged equipment discomfort can quickly transition to pain.

It’s not worth it to save a few dollars (that’s assuming, of course, OSHA doesn’t drop by) at the expense of your long term health. Always use the right equipment, maintain that equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and remove damaged equipment from service.

And if you ever find yourself considering asking if adding a zip-tie might allow you to extend the lifetime of a lanyard, please know that the answer is a resounding ‘no’.