Earlier this week equipment manufacturer Edelrid issued a product recall for a selection of their via ferrata lanyards. This recall follows a fatal via ferrata accident a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, investigations have so far established an association between increased use of these lanyards and a weakening of their elasticated webbing. As the Edelrid lanyards involved in this accident had apparently been rented, it is quite possible that they had seen greater than usual use. However, the actual cause of the accident has not yet been established and Edelrid have issued the product recall as a precaution.
Every so often you see product recalls for mountaineering equipment. In the last year, for example, Petzl has issued product recalls for Scorpio via ferrata lanyards and some GriGri 2 belay devices. Most of the time I just glance at these notices, but the Edelrid notice grabbed my attention because I’ve used Edelrid lanyards for the last couple of years. My model isn’t covered by the recall and so I’m saved the hassle of returning the set for inspection and repair. But this particular recall has got me thinking about is the trust we place in both our gear and the people who make it.
Any rock climb involves relying on multiple pieces of equipment. Each of these items has a different history in which a multitude of factors could have affected its reliability. This history includes the complex process of manufacture. This is why we rely on manufacturers being open and honest about when something has not been manufactured to the standards expected.
There are good reasons why manufacturers issue product recalls. There is the need to limit legal liability and so any potentially costly legal penalties. There is also the need to avoid damaging publicity. A product recall might create bad publicity, but not anywhere near as much as not issuing a recall and customers being injured as a result. Recalls may also be costly in replacing or repairing the affected product, but they are cheaper than the costs associated with a tainted brand and reduced trust in the company.
As such, product recalls are common sense, however, it’s worth remembering that in the past companies have been reluctant or slow to issue them. The classic example of this is the Ford Pinto, an early subcompact car. The design of the Pinto’s fuel tank meant that it had a tendency to burst into flames when the car was rear-ended, even at low speeds. Ford was apparently aware of this potentially fatal problem, but decided it was cheaper to settle legal claims for damages than to issue a product recall. This design problem allegedly led to three deaths. Following court action, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos in 1978.
The Pinto case can now seem like an extreme example, but it’s worth remembering that whether a product recall happens depends on the decisions of people. They will make a decision on the basis of some form of cost-benefit analysis and their own personality and beliefs. In making such decisions, people can sometimes be self-serving and short sighted. This is why good regulation and company culture is needed encourage people to do the right thing.
In mountaineering related activities, this regulation comes from the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation). They set the standards expected of equipment and only those products certified by the UIAA as meeting the required standards get to carry the UIAA Safety Label. For those occasions when something goes awry, the UIAA even has an online directory of product recalls.
It’s also important that the customers of mountaineering equipment manufacturers are also very safety conscious and would take badly to not being told of an issue with the gear on which their lives can depend.
All this means that my trust in my gear and the people who make it is probably well founded. Its unlikely a mountaineering gear company wouldn’t issue a product recall. Edelrid did, after all, issue a product recall as soon as it became clear that there might be an issue with its products and this was soon zipping around the web. I guess this means I can trust my lanyards.
UPDATE: There have been further recalls of via ferrata lanyards since this post and an update can be found here.