Further Recalled

Today a group of manufacturers have issued new recalls on via ferrata lanyards.  This is the second wave of recalls of this type of equipment in the last six months and relates to a different type of lanyards than in the first wave.  The statements issued by the UIAA (the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) and the manufacturers are clear that the issues with these particular lanyards are potentially fatal.

Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.
Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.

Usually, recalls of climbing and mountaineering equipment are for particular items and are specific to one manufacturer.  The safety issues that have affected via ferrata lanyards in the last six months relate to a multiple products, from multiple manufacturers.  The costs to these manufacturers must be substantial, with entire product lines withdrawn and customers compensated with replacements.  There is also the testing and development of new, safer lanyards.  However, not recalling these products would have been far worse to their reputations and their customers.  Via ferrata lanyards are designed to withstand the very high fall factors associated with falling off a via ferrata and, together with the harness they are attached to, are the only thing that arrests a fall that could result in serious injury or death.

It was a fatal accident that started this sequence of events.  In August last year a climber fell off a via ferrata in Austria and both his lanyards snapped.  This led to a number of recalls as manufacturers tested their products for the fault that it is believed caused that accident.  The issue appears to have been how elasticated lanyards are made and how they weaken with intensive use.  These are recalls are something I have blogged about before.  However, the new recalls are of old, used via ferrata sets using rope-breaking systems.  Again, the issue appears to be both intensive use and the basic construction of this safety equipment and has been revealed by a testing programme by manufacturers.  A full list of the models affected is on the UIAA website.

Climbing the via ferrata Piz da Lech.
Climbing the via ferrata Piz da Lech.

Manufacturers have worked with a relevant sports body to identify potentially dangerous products and remove them from use.  The UIAA is also in the process of improving the relevant safety standards.  While I feel somewhat reassured by these recalls as they seem to show a system that works, I’m not completely reassured for two reasons.  The first is that I’m unsure if there are not more recalls of this or similar equipment to come.  I didn’t imagine that there would be a second wave of recalls and I’m guessing most people who climb via ferrata didn’t either.  The second reason is the scale of what has happened.  A lot of people would have used these lanyards that have now been recalled, possibly for quite a while and possibly when they were unsafe to use.  Therefore, the fact that there have not been more fatalities may be just down to chance.

Whether the manufacturers are to blame is up for debate.  Manufacturers couldn’t recall something they didn’t know to recall and which had passed existing safety standards.  Yet, it’s worth asking why they didn’t do better fatigue tests on their products and why the safety standards were not more robust. I find this whole saga a bit unsettling, as climbers of all descriptions must trust equipment to keep them safe.  Hopefully this is the end of this story.

8 thoughts on “Further Recalled

  • I think the answer here is ‘for the love of God, don’t fall off!’… The point about vie ferrate is that even if your lanyards deploy safely, there’s still a huge amount of potentially fatal damage that can occur depending on what you hit on the way down. The only time I feel I can take a breather is by attaching just above a bolt with a short quickdraw directly into my harness so there’s no potential of going anywhere.

    • True, falling off is definitely to be avoided. Although, I’d like to know that the lanyards will stop the fall if I do happen to fall off. What all these recalls have raised is the possibility that some people (using older lanyards that had seen a fair bit of usage) may have been climbing with lanyards that wouldn’t have worked or would have had a much reduced chance of working in a fall. Hopefully, the recalls and the new, improved lanyards that are out there will mean people can trust the lanyards to catch them.

      I agree that having a set up to allow you to rest (like a quickdraw with the appropriate screwgates) is a good idea. It’s certainly better to use this than get so pumped that you fall off.

    • That’s a bit of good luck.

      I always feel a bit nervous when using hired gear. At least with your own equipment you know what’s happened to it and how old it is.

      One of the things that interests me about this issue is that it really affects people who are just dabbling in via ferrata or maybe trying it out for the first time. They’re the people who rent gear and are least to invest in their own lanyards, harness, etc. Is the answer to require them to buy their own gear, regulate the rental sector more strongly or improve the construction of lanyards? Maybe educating people about the risks is the place to start.

  • However,rope-breaking lanyards can work only one time,i mean you must absolutely hold on and finish your route without falling off anymore;it’s easier said than done. Moreover,i’ve noticed that not very expert people tend to carry heavy backpacks,a serious risk for their backbone and to end their flight upside down;in such cases a complete harness should be preferable,as long as i know,even if i wear it very seldom,to be honest.

    • Good points and I agree.

      Once the lanyards are used, they’re done. That’s why I carry a 35m rope as an emergency back-up in case I need to safely get myself off a route after a fall.

      Best wishes

  • True,carrying a rope is what i do myself when i’m leading groups in any situation of exposure;by the way,in early season vie ferrate could be in bad conditions for winter’s avalanches,whose power sometimes can broke 12mm. steel cables and setting a fixed rope is necessary. Going where guides take their clients is often wiser and safer;Marmolada di Penìa from the classic and well-kept West ridge instead of the less checked via ferrata Brigata Cadore (also known as Eterna/Eternal,for its lenght),to mention as example a beautiful but tricky mountain that is very frequented by British tourists on summer.

    Best Wishes
    Paolo

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