Article by Deborah Chick

The topic of performing Equipment Inspections on working at heights PPE and equipment is one of the most widely discussed within industry, and yet it comes with a layer of uncertainty. 

Why? Well … there still seems to be confusion.

A lot of people vaguely remember a minor element of training when undertaking the a Work Safely At Heights qualification here in Australia. They may remember that they need to inspect their gear before use and might know that the ASNZ 1891.4 2009 standard requires that all personal use equipment and common use equipment to be inspected … but who is actually competent to perform those inspections? What quantifies that competence? 

By definition, a competent person is a person who, through a combination of trainingknowledge and experience, has acquired knowledge and skills enabling that person to correctly perform a specified task.

How important is it to regularly inspect your equipment? The simple answer is: it is very important.

Equipment can fail. 

Without training in inspection, and having inspection & maintenance procedures in place, items of equipment can have faults that remain undetected for pro-longed periods of time. This may result in an increased risk of injury or harm to technicians, plant and/or equipment.

Two of the biggest issues that companies and individuals face when it comes equipment are time and money, closely followed by the availability of a competent person to perform equipment inspections.

Training to perform equipment inspection may be attained via the manufacturer or through an accredited equipment inspection training provider. 

Be aware – some RTO’s here in Australia will advertise a PPE inspection course based off the MEM1500B – Perform Inspection unit of competency under the AVETMISS / ASQA education framework; however this specific unit of competency specifically states that it is “This unit is not intended to be applied to maintenance personnel carrying out their day-to-day activities”. This course is intended for inspection mid manufacturing. 

That’s not to say that training doesn’t cover some similar inspection methods, but it isn’t actually specific to working at heights equipment. The closest course we have within the ASQA framework is the PUAEQU001 – Prepare, maintain and test response equipment unit of competency, but even then – due care is needed when selecting your training provider to ensure that they are undertaking training with equipment relevant to the working at heights and confined spaces industry. 

Outside of attending a course, it is also possible for persons conducting or undertaking business to develop internal training programs. This is evidence of training and competency. 

But it often it falls to senior management and working at heights supervisors to ensure that they are doing the best that they can, in so far as is reasonably practicable. And sadly, there can be a lot of resistance to improvement, because of the time and cost of implementing changes.

Operators should be aware that their lives depend on the efficiency and durability of the equipment and proper inspection is their first line of defence against the hazards of faulty equipment.

So we would invite you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I undergone formal training on pre-use and thorough inspections?
  • What do I know I need to look for when inspecting textile materials vs metal?
  • What information do I need to record and when?
  • When was the last time I performed a thorough inspection of PPE and Equipment?

If you were unable to confidently answer any of those questions – it is an exciting opportunity to up-skill!

And there are other points to consider on the day to day management of equipment; The sign off each day by all workers through the SMWM’s or related safety documentation should include inspection of all PPE, whether owned by the company, individual or provided by the facility where the work is being undertaken. The definition of the competent person needs to be clearly defined by the company. If in doubt, ask – after all it is your life at risk.

From some employing companies, there can be push back to make employees and contractors undertake inspection of their own equipment, however – if there is an incident they may be involved in subsequent litigation. You really do need to maintain a record of all equipment on site and when it was inspected, whether you own it or not. This means you need a detailed record, or a safety manual in place to ensure that inspections are scheduled and dates are recorded; and who the competent person was who performed the inspection. These schedules of inspection may need to be flexible depending on the environment the equipment is used in as it may be subjected to more aggressive wear and tear than ‘normal’.

This creates an opportunity for businesses to develop and refine exisiting systems to ensure they have something in place to offer guidance for inspection, be it a manufacturer’s safe use and inspection instruction, or Appendix C and D from AS/NZ 1891.4 standard, or even from other associations such as Annex H from IRATA International. The resources are there for companies to integrate into their workplace.

Ultimately all working at heights equipment and PPE should be inspected prior to first use; this includes visual and tactile inspection, as well as a function check. This is the very first inspection new equipment undergoes, and therefore it should be recorded. It is important to include the unique identifier, date of first use, manufacturer, and other relevant information as listed in AS/NZS 1891.4 2009.

From this very first inspection and start of record keeping – we move on to our on-going equipment inspections.

It is vital to ensure equipment is safe to use prior to undertaking works – this means that there needs to be a visual and tactile inspection, as well as a function check performed before you use any piece of equipment. This inspection is often referred to as the “Pre-Use Inspection”.

Thorough inspections, should be carried out every 6 months in accordance with ASNZS 1891.4 2009, or as specified by the manufacturer. 

Equipment and PPE needs to be retired in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; typically this is 10 years from date of manufacture for textile items (webbing, harnesses, fall arrest lanyard etc). If the tag on the equipment is illegible, and you have no record of date of manufacture, then the item needs to be retired / removed and destroyed to prevent it from being used, as you no longer have evidence of date of manufacture. 

Metal items typically do not need to be retired from service, unless the item in question has failed inspection criteria. In many cases they may also be able to be retired to a service agent for repair prior to being returned to service. Manufacturer’s guidance / technical notices provide additional information for inspection.

Inspections shall be by sight and touch and shall include the opening of any equipment where access for daily inspection is provided to ensure that the internal components are in good condition.

Where equipment is considered in any way doubtful by the competent person, it should be tagged out of service. A label should be attached to the equipment indicating the defect and referred to a height safety equipment inspector for further action.

At WAHA we strongly encourage the ongoing development of skills and knowledge – even if you have undertaken a training course in the past, how long ago was it? If it’s more than three years ago it might be time to revisit your training! Technically a nationally recognised competency issued from a reputable RTO does not expire, however the WAHA recommends refresher training for operators every 2 years to maintain currency and to account for manufacturer changes in product designs and materials.

If you would like to learn more, we have details of the ASNZ 1891.4 2009 Australian Standard and additional information about Inspection and Maintenance of Equipment on our website: https://www.waha.org.au/technical-bulletins/inspection-and-maintenance/

Deb is the Secretary of WAHA and CEO of Eve Consulting. She has over a decade of business management experience in the industrial rope access and working at heights sector and is a former member of the IRATA International Health and Safety Committee. She holds multiple qualifications in the field including IOSH Rope Access Manager, QMS Lead Auditor and KONG PPE Inspector. 

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