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It is paramount that safety professionals NOT fall into the trap which suggests that the manufacturer or OSHA be the deciding factor on when to retire a company’s harness or lanyard. There are way too many variables for anyone, including OSHA, ANSI, the manufacturer, or a distributor of these goods, to tell you when to discard your safety equipment.
OSHA has at times, opportunistically, used (and abused) the ‘manufacturer’ as a rule maker. They cannot abrogate their duty to make rules to a private industry with selfish interests, and you should not allow them to imply they can. They cannot. They do use manufacturer’s guidelines as a tool to help determine whether there is a violation. For instance, if a ‘Competent Person’ does NOT take into consideration the manufacturer’s guidelines, they could say that he did not comply with the rules to properly inspect the equipment, which would imply that he SHOULD take into account the manufacturer’s guidelines. But saying that doesn’t make it so.

The Competent Person could have taken into consideration a more comprehensive set of guidelines put out by the webbing and fabric industry, or a more rigid instruction for another manufacturer that makes almost the same item. He could have conducted testing or gotten specific information from a source that is better than the manufacturer’s. This is readily seen, (sort of in reverse) if you look at all manufacturer’s guidelines and notice they all tell you to avoid knots… or to NOT use the device with any knots more commonly. In appendix C inspection and design criteria for safety systems OSHA themselves tell you to take into consideration the manufacturer’s advisories. But they also tell you to account for and deduct for the use of knots in any safety system. Clearly, they allow that YOU, the Competent and Qualified Person can decide how and when to determine right from wrong, and a distant CSHO, or a manufacturer cannot. Another example is the assumption that the manufacturer will tell you when it’s time to throw it out, or if you can keep it.

Specific instructions for use, inspection, and cleaning that must be understood and followed accompany the goods. However, regarding the 5-year “expiration” date that is general in the industry, this life expectancy is a general guideline. From the moment you open the bag the harness starts to deteriorate. The manufacturer cannot tell you how many tiny little spatters of slag it takes to discard the harness, nor how many whiffs of chlorine at how much concentration in PPM it would take to degrade the material to a given percentage. The manufacturer cannot tell you (except generally and qualitatively) how many rays of sunshine at what elevation (that matters) it takes to degrade the item to a point it is worn out (or too weakened) to use. The manufacturer cannot tell you the effects of your sweat components (acid, alkalinity, salts), or of the amount of grit in your air, or the pollution in your work locations. Acid rain has what? Acid in it. You are supposed to avoid acids. Rest assured the best and most qualified person to tell an employer when to retire equipment is the Competent and a Qualified Person on site.

Rest assured the equipment has tremendous excess capacity, and the degradation that is common (not normal…) in a 3-5-year period does not render the device worthless on the 1st day of the 6th year. The manufacturer knows that a harness worn every day will likely not make the 5-year mark, not by a long shot. A heavy form carpenter or an iron worker can wear out a harness in less than a year. On the other hand, a harness that is properly stored and worn only for inspections and riding in boom lifts and on roofs, that is used once a week or once a month, may last a lifetime. The Competent Person is the deciding factor. Also note, lanyards have a recommended 3-year use limit.

Manufacturers can’t tell you about strength or loss of strength. They can in fact take your lanyard or harness back and test it, but that destroys it, and it’s a moot point whether it should be retired after that. Therefore, they could only provide more recommendations (still requiring the Competent Person to make the final decisions).

If you have 25 lanyards and really can’t decide what to do, you ask for a test. The manufacturer can test the material of three lanyards that YOU decide are the worst, because YOU agree that getting some data will help YOU make up YOUR mind. The webbing of all three lanyards are tested and it tells you that the break test shows that the webbing is about 25% diminished from when it was new. So the 10,000 break strength is now 7,500 lbs. Well, that is substantially more than the minimum 5,000 lbs. YOU decide to keep using the remaining 22 lanyards, using the data as ONE of your considerations for that decision.

The manufacturer can’t tell you to use the three that were tested, but it cannot tell you to use the other 23 either, since it’s not their decision. Most importantly, the assumption that all 25 have similar exposures, similar amounts of sun time, chemical time, sweat components, acid rain baths, storage similarities, ages in services (the label doesn’t tell us that), wear on parts (one is used every day on the same exact grommet in the leg straps by one user, and the others are used on different settings since different users have them each day). The test is probably useful if the controlled experiment was indeed controlled, or even an experiment. It is a piece of data the Competent Person can use, but again, in the end, the 23 units going back into service are doing so on the decision of the Competent Person.

Safety people, don’t turn your responsibility to train and make decisions and help others make rightful decisions over to a salesman or technician at some manufacturer. They will always default to ‘read the warnings and instructions, and advice and take our recommendations’, as if their attorney was speaking directly to you.

OSHA realizes, when they are honest about it, that manufacturers have one overall interest and that is making a good product and getting paid, and protecting themselves from injurious lawsuits and claims that imply and allege they have some duty they do not. They do not have a duty to inspect and approve equipment for use by your clients or employers. That is the domain of a safety professional and a Competent or Qualified Person, properly trained by such professionals.
A Competent Person, as defined by OSHA, uses manufacturer’s recommendations and OSHA and ANSI rules as guidelines. Appendix C has a lot of helpful indicators and reminders to check for, too. At the end of the day, you make the decision. It would be prudent to all concerned to default on the side of taking it out if there is doubt. By the same token, if there is no doubt it’s fine, then the safety professionals and Competent and/or Qualified Persons should be confident enough of their knowledge and observations and all things taken into consideration, and allow it to stay in service. And document your choices and decisions whether on the little tags, (really not the best), or on a separate record tied to the unit number of each piece.

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