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.
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 The costs to these manufacturers must be substantial, with entire product lines withdrawn and customers compensated with replacements.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.
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.