UKC

/ To Bin or Not to Bin - Lifespan of Climbing Gear.

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Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
I'm hoping this post might receive some replies from those involved in manufacturing and testing climbing gear.

Our club purchased 5 harnesses for use for introducing beginners about 5 years ago. They come out one evening a month for use at the wall and one weekend a year for use outside. They are stored in the dark and have taken no leader falls. Not surprisingly they are all still in pretty good nick. Two of the harnesses, from Black Diamond and Camp, have a manufacturer's maximum recommended lifespan of 10 years. The other three harnesses, from Wild Country have a manufacturer's maximum recommended lifespan of 5 years. Following BMC guidelines the club will now retire the three harnesses that have a 5 year recommended maximum life.

We are considering whether they can or should be passed on to club members who might be able and willing to continue to use them. Our fall-back position, given the uncertainty and the club's potential liability is that they must be destroyed. Having said that, in my 50 years of climbing, I have myself on occasions continued to use my own kit for personal use beyond the manufacturer's recommended retirement age, subject to regular inspection, and in situations when big fall factors are unlikely, eg indoors. I know I'm not alone there.

My specific question is why the different manufacturers recommend different lifespans. Is it because some are more risk-averse than others? Is it because they are just trying to sell more harnesses? Or is there a genuine difference in materials or manfacture that justifies the different lifespans. Do Wild Country use a different chemical composition webbing or different stitching/bar-tacking methods? I'm interested whether anyone in the know has an answer to this.

I expect I'll get a few replies from people saying "just use them" as well as a few saying "bin them", but I'm more interested in the technical question myself.

Many thanks everyone.

Martin


Jamie Wakeham - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

Contact WC and confirm that five years is still their lifespan. I was in a very similar situation with some helmets, which had five years on their paperwork, but the manufacturer had since started giving ten years on the newer batches of the same model. A few emails later they agreed that there was no reason for this not to apply to the older batches and I got a bonus five years of use out of them!

I'll be very interested to see other responses to this thread, though, as I'm now at the end of life of those helmets and the harnesses I use with them, and wondering what to do with them. Like yours, they're almost unused, and binning them seems over cautious.
Wayne S - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

I think you need to stand by the power of your convictions. If you are convinced they are good then get a years or so use out of all harnesses and retire and replace when you see wear.

Recommendation is just that, and you need to be pragmatic. Most manufacturers now give a sliding scale which reflects levels of use.
Paul at work - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

If you want to have a look at what the nearly all of the different manufacturers currently recommend re lifespans of their climbing equipment, have a look at the document that I put together last spring - https://www.facebook.com/rockandwateradventures/posts/1698306633543563

Currently, it isn't hosted anywhere else, but I am happy to email you a copy of the PDF if you wish.
jimtitt - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

The topic is a mess! I only make hard goods but the situation is the same for all, we are required to give an expected lifetime even though we have absolutely no idea what it is and no way to define it.
The standard makers (CEN) leave it entirely up to the manufacturer to define when the goods are no longer acceptable which is ridiculous, if the defined standard of "safe" is conforming to the requirements of the standard then most soft goods fail almost straight out of the packaging. On the other hand if the standard were to say a sling for example can deteriorate to 16kN and is still safe then there is no justification for the standard for a new sling to be higher. Like I said, it´ s a chaotic situation where the standards authority have just moved the responsibility to the manufacturer with no guidelines whatsoever.
pec on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to jimtitt:

> . . . if the defined standard of "safe" is conforming to the requirements of the standard then most soft goods fail almost straight out of the packaging. >

There are people out there taking falls on 5 to 10 year old harnesses, ropes and quickdraws all the time and I've heard several accounts of ancient ropes, sometimes 20 years old or more, holding at least one UIAA test fall without failure when tested.
Presumably the 'standard' has enough safety margin built into it to allow for quite a bit of deterioration and things will still be safe enough for most conceivable circumstances. If so then failing to meet the 'standard' does not in itself make things unsafe.
Yes, its a mess!
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Thank you Jamie.

Yes, I contacted all three manufacturers in December. Wild Country confirmed 5 years for their harnesses but do now allow 10 years for their 360 helmets.

Martin

john arran - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

It's just like "handwash in warm water only" It's BS. Which is very easy to ignore for personal use but much harder if you're in a potentially responsible position and left with little choice but to comply with the manufacturers' designed-in obsolescence.

My only sensible suggestion (the only one that's responsible or printable anyway!) would be to look at the manufacturer's product lifespans very carefully when considering what to replace these perfectly good harnesses with, so as not to let the charlatans get away with it so easily again.
2
captain paranoia - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

I think Jim has a fair point.

How do you determine a safe lifetime in years, when you have no control over what happens within that lifetime; how often it is used, how many heavy falls it is subjected to, what environment it is exposed to.

It's a nonsense, and you really can't blame the manufacturers for specifying conservative lifetimes.

Probably worth looking at UIAA tests on nylon products.
1
john arran - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to captain paranoia:

A harness could be trash after a single season if used/abused enough, so why don't all manufacturer's specify a 1-year lifespan?

Clearly they can afford to qualify their lifespan with a requirement for proper care and limited use, which I believe is what some of the responsible manufacturers do. So why give a maximum of 5 years regardless of use? Seems like BS to me, when all tests on nylon goods seem to suggest that, when used and stored carefully, they should last for decades.
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Paul at work:
Many thanks Paul - I've printed it from your Facebook page.

It's very useful information, although it's interesting that you didn't get the same response as I did, by email, from Black Diamond re their harnesses. You got "5 years from first use or ten years from manufacture" whichever comes first. I just got "10 years from manufacture".

There's no logic that I can see to the information that you were given anyway. Let's consider two identical harnesses both manufactured in 2010 and both stored in the dark whenever not in use. One harness gets, say, it's first use in 2010 and then 100 outings over ten years to 2020. The second harness gets it's first use in 2015 and then 100 identical outings over 5 years to 2020. Both harnesses should show identical wear at 2020, but according to the manufacturer the first harness would have to have been retired in 2015 after only 50 outings.

As Jim Titt says above, it seems a mess.

Martin
Post edited at 21:48
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

Thanks John

Yes, the club will not be replacing these harnesses with new from the same manufacturer, although they have suited us ideally in all respects apart from the recommended lifespan. We will replace from a manufacturer that gives a 10 year recommended life. Wild Country have lost a sale.

Martin
captain paranoia - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

> A harness could be trash after a single season if used/abused enough, so why don't all manufacturer's specify a 1-year lifespan?

Because no-one would buy them.

You only confirm Jim's point; it's a mess. A worthless, meaningless mess.
Post edited at 21:49
Webster - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

I still occasionally use a harnesss which I over 15 years old... work perfectly fine. Definitely don't bin perfectly useable kit! if you are worried about club liability and all that crap then 'bin' them into your club member conveniently placed rucksacks so that people can continue to keep using them!
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Wayne S:

> I think you need to stand by the power of your convictions. If you are convinced they are good then get a years or so use out of all harnesses and retire and replace when you see wear.

> Recommendation is just that, and you need to be pragmatic. Most manufacturers now give a sliding scale which reflects levels of use.

If they were my own harnesses for my own personal use I would do just that. I have occasionally used gear that has passed the recommended lifespan on precisely that basis. Although, judging by the state of some people's kit that I see at the crag, I am more cautious than many. It's entirely each person's choice of course how to use their own kit - that's the name of our game.

The club committee however, mindful of its responsibilities, has I believe rightly decided to follow BMC guidelines with regard to club equipment. And the BMC club equipment guidelines are clear " All equipment has a lifetime, given by the manufacturer, after which it should be scrapped, even if it seems to still be OK".

If there is a view amongst knowledgeable mountaineers generally, including guides, instructors and those involved in the manufacture of equipment, that this advice is wrong, then perhaps that needs to be fed through to the BMC?

Martin
john arran - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to captain paranoia:

> Because no-one would buy them.

> You only confirm Jim's point; it's a mess. A worthless, meaningless mess.

But when you say "Probably worth looking at UIAA tests on nylon products" I presume you mean that the actual safe lifespan is almost certainly far more than the stated 5 years, assuming reasonable use and storage of course.

Which is all well and good, except when in charge of a business or club that stands to be legally accused of malpractice if it exceeds these ridiculously conservative lifespans.

I think we can al agree with Jim that it's a mess, but it's a mess that only individual users can really justify ignoring.
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to jimtitt:

Thank you Jim - I appreciate you have a great deal of knowledge in this area. And thank you to everyone else who has responded.

As I mentioned in my response to Wayne S, our club committee feels bound to follow BMC guidance - I agree with that. And the BMC guidance states: "All equipment has a lifetime, given by the manufacturer, after which it should be scrapped, even if it seems to still be OK".

If it is as much of a mess as you state, perhaps the BMC needs to consider whether more flexible guidance could be given. But I appreciate the BMC has it's own liabilities to consider.

Martin
Kevster - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

Is there actually a case for your club having this kit?
We (our club) had all-sorts of gear and came across the whole annual inspection, HSE type thing, logging falls etc, lifespan etc etc questions. And the legal side of who is responsible etc etc.
Basically we decided it was a hot potato, though people could borrow off others without issue, and a beginner would probably be with their own harness, shoes, belay. We live a way away from proper rock.
All we had to say is "we heavily recommend a helmet" and kit was bought on demand.
No need for club kit...

Only a question.
Phil Payne - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

I would give them to other club members 1 month before the 5 years is up and tell them that they should destroy them at the 5 year mark. That way at the time you hand them over, they are in date and it's their choice as to wether they continue to use them beyond the 5 year point.
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

Thanks John. I'm pleased to have started a debate here.

Might it be helpful to distinguish different types of deterioration that "soft" kit suffers from. There is wear in use, which can largely be judged by regular, careful inspection coupled with knowledge of the falls that the kit has sustained, and there is the chemical deterioration that takes place steadily from manufacture, even with no use. I suspect chemical deterioration is mostly due to UV, which is also visible to inspection, and proportional to outdoor use. But my understanding is that some chemical deterioration takes place even in dark storage.

I wonder if anyone has ever tested to destruction kit that has never been used, and stored in perfect conditions, after different periods, say every 5 years, from the date of manufacture. We would then have a guide as to what percentage strength reduction could be expected from hidden chemical deterioration over the lifetime of the kit - that's the factor that even the most careful inspection and logging of use cannot tell us.

I think that might be more useful than the current manufacturer's recommended lifespans.

Martin
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Phil Payne:

> I would give them to other club members 1 month before the 5 years is up and tell them that they should destroy them at the 5 year mark. That way at the time you hand them over, they are in date and it's their choice as to wether they continue to use them beyond the 5 year point.

Well that's an interesting suggestion. We could still do that for two of the harnesses - the third has already passed its 5 years. I might mention that to the committee.

Martin
Martin Hore - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to Kevster:

> Is there actually a case for your club having this kit?

Yes, I think in our case there is. We offer beginners evenings once a month at the local wall (a small, largely non-commercial wall in a school sports hall where the club has effectively exclusive use one evening a week). Yes, occasionally newcomers borrow off club members but we don't encourage that. Usually the only harnesses club members are able to lend are ones they've already retired as their "main" harness. That's a bit of a minefield.

Around 25 - 50% of our currently active members, including some who are now pretty experienced, had their first taste of climbing on one of the clubs beginners meets.

Martin
captain paranoia - on 05 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

> except when in charge of a business or club that stands to be legally accused of malpractice if it exceeds these ridiculously conservative lifespans

Yes. If you're in this mess professionally, you have to play the game, stupid as it is.
More_Than_a_Plod - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to captain paranoia:

There have been several cases through the courts of prosecutions by the HSE of rope access companies who have failed to properly dispose of equipment at the end of its recommended (or useable) lifespan.
One notably was a company who put their end of life kit in a skip behind their premises. One evening an inquisitive type chap climbed the fence to make enquiries into the availability of said equipment. Needless to say said chap removed a large coil of LSK from the skip. A few weeks later in hospital with a broken back from a fall after the rope failed. The subsequent investigation by the HSE found the company liable for failure to dispose of equipment correctly under the PUWER regulations. (Ie rendering it unusable)
I always start off from the point of. If I am stood there gripping the rail can I justify my position (as a competent person) if I have knowingly used or allowed use of equipment beyond the manufacturers lifespan?
Indeed I just had to cut up 7 brand new full fall arrest harnesses never out of their packets. Which was tear inducing but a necessary requirement. I have however kept two to take up to LYON EQUIPMENT. to put on the pull rig to see what,if any, degradation has taken place over 10 years of storage.
As a company I would ask yourself. Have I complied with the regulations. Even if I don't necessarily agree with them? Handing them over to someone else as they approach or have surpassed the lifespan either doesn't or is morally questionable.

Alex


pec on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

This is quite an interesting article on testing 'suspect' gear.
https://eu.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_GB/experience-story?cid=qc-lab-old-vs-new-gear-testing
Paul at work - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:
> It's very useful information, although it's interesting that you didn't get the same response as I did, by email, from Black Diamond re their harnesses. You got "5 years from first use or ten years from manufacture" whichever comes first. I just got "10 years from manufacture".

The main difference may be when you got the information, that document was compiled nearly a year ago. The information that I used was the information supplied by the manufacturers with their equipment or what was published on their websites at the time and discounted any verbal (or emailed) information that I was given as that is much harder to prove as accurate.

5 years from first use or ten years from manufacture. Simply means that they are stating that they expect a particular harness will last 5 years with 'normal' use from when you first use it. Now defining what 'normal' use is tricky, that is why most manufacturers point out that you can damage something on first use and that regular inspection of the equipment occur before each use, by someone who knows what they are looking for. Recreationally this comes down to your own decision making, but when you are providing equipment for club members or commercially then there are additional things to worry about.

I disagree that it is a mess, as the manufacturers are required to give their equipment a lifespan, so, on the whole, will be conservative. For three reasons, being held accountable in court (very unlikely), sale of new models (its not as if they can do an Apple and slow down the equipment, when the latest model is launched) and most importantly given the pretty small production runs / size of the companies, there isn't the data set of evident to support extending the lifespans. Most of the articles looking at testing 'old' equipment often are only testing one or at best two items, which is hardly scientific or even definitive proof. But it does provide interesting discussion points.

Over the 20 plus years I have been climbing, one thing that hasn't changed is that climbers on the whole pretty tight when it comes to spending money on harnesses and ropes, but yet spend thousands on travelling to the crag and on clothing! If you use a harness for 20 times a year for 5 years, that harness has cost you in the region of 40-75p per time, that is not much.

On the whole, I personally get around 100 - 150 days of use out of a harness before it is looking truly knackered, but then given what I do, I do give them a very hard time. Interesting one of the paddlesport manufacturers give their buoyancy aids stated maximum lifespan in the number of days of use.
Post edited at 13:45
Paul at work - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to john arran:

> But when you say "Probably worth looking at UIAA tests on nylon products" I presume you mean that the actual safe lifespan is almost certainly far more than the stated 5 years, assuming reasonable use and storage of course.

Interestingly the majority of manufacturers are stating 10 years from manufacture, for the lifespans of their fabric. Which is a massive improvement from the 5 year lifespans of the 1990s.

Jamie Wakeham - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to More_Than_a_Plod:

I have 15 helmets and harnesses that have had extremely limited group use - probably in the region of fifty days - which have just gone past ten years old.

Must I conclude from this that I cannot even give them away to competent friends, telling them explicitly that they are beyond their lifetime, and that if they chose to use them then it's entirely their own call?

Seems a shame, but also seems I have no choice.
Wayne S - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:
Hi,

Initially you sounded like you needed some concurrence that the gear you know to be perfectly serviceable is indeed that. So I understand that the only real club decision there can be is to dispose of the harnesses once they have been rendered unusable. I guess you will just have to put your pragmatic personal views aside when chopping them up!

I know rock and run have often had multipacks of harnesses and a very good price, might be worth a look. As others have stated, buy from a manufacturer who gives a lifetime of 10 years for light to no use (or cheap!).

Interestingly WC do not offer a re-slinging service for their cams, it certainly factors in my purchasing decisions.
Post edited at 19:01
Martin Hore - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to pec:

Many thanks - an excellent article. Some real testing of old gear by a company with no obvious financial incentive to do so - except good publicity of course. Well done BD.

Martin
Timmd on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Martin Hore:

If anybody has any climbing harnesses which have traditional buckles on them, I'd be interested in paying postage for them so that I can make some belts out of the waist webbing and buckles by cutting them away from the harnesses.
Martin Hore - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Wayne S:

Thanks Wayne.

You raise another couple of points of interest. Our local shop is owned by a club member who devoted about an hour of his working day to showing me and discussing the merits of different harnesses and contacting a couple of manufacturers to ascertain their lifespan recommendations. I can now go to Rock and Run and obtain the harnesses on line quite a bit cheaper than he can sell them to me. But would that be ethical? I rather think not.

I've solved the Wild Country no re-slinging problem for my own Friends and Rockcentrics by buying dyneema cord from Needlesports, Keswick. They sell it in the right lengths with advice on the best knot to use. I was quite impressed with that.

Martin


baron - on 06 Jan 2018
In reply to Timmd:

They, Troll as one example, used to make webbing belts with buckles but with no leg loops.
Don't know if they're still manufactured.
Timmd on 07 Jan 2018
In reply to baron:

Interesting, I'm quite keen on the recycling angle rather than buying new.
baron - on 07 Jan 2018
In reply to Timmd:
Indeed.
I thought there could be a few of these belts lying around, unused and unwanted, as they used to be popular with youth clubs, etc before leg loop harnesses became the norm.
It would have saved you having to cut off the leg loops and would have given any such belts a new lease of life.
Good luck in your search.
Fakey Rocks - on 16 Jan 2018
In reply to Timmd:

I have a Troll harness, 30 yrs old, not sure which model. It's a turqoisy colour if that helps. It did 5 yrs of a mixture of trad + sport, b4 I retired.

Also a caving harness perhaps made by troll too, similar age, no idea how I acquired it or what usage it's had.

Would be nice for them to somehow be recycled, but what will you use them for?

Post edited at 06:58

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