Friday, 14 September 2012 00:00

After New Tests Via Ferrata Sets are Snookered

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After New Tests Via Ferrata Sets are Snookered

UIAA calls on every user of via ferrata sets around the world to check his equipment

Safety standards and norm insufficiency

Berlin 09/14/2012: The UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) in a press release of 09/13/12 cautions insistently via ferrata users against belaying themselves with their equipment without gathering information about it. Concerned are new generation via ferrata sets with elastic lanyards. The lethal accident of a 17 year old on 08/05/12 in Tyrolia, Austria, caused by the rupture of a via ferrata set, lead to a so far globally unique amount of recalls by different manufacturers of climbing equipment.

As the problem is clearly traced back to the slings, several manufacturers tested their via ferrata sets. The result is,

 

that strong damages occur by disposal of a special material, with a specific texture and the inweaving with rubber, combined with dirt and usage. Due to this, the lanyards are not able to feature the minimum durability any more.

According to Florian Hellberg, safety commission of the DAV (german alpinism club), the problem of via ferrata sets had been seen so far in the breaking resistance and function of the shock absorber, not in the durability of the lanyards. So the set of problems is new. Because of the shock absorber, the lanyards are actually not exposed to high impacts, compared with climbing harnesses or quickdraws. Therefore the by the standard defined minimum breaking strength is considerably subjacent. However, if the lanyards lose their original durability caused by abrasion, they quickly reach the limit when the shock absorber does not even start to work. Then the lanyards crack.

The current set of problems is, that not every via ferrata set of every manufacturer is equipped with the same materials. So not all via ferrata sets in general are affected. Thereby some manufacturers had to recall their via ferrata sets because of the utilized material. Others have ascertained in tests, that their material fulfils the requirements of the additional tests also.

Based on the findings achieved piece by piece, a new test procedure could be developed which tests the combination of dirt an usage in addition to the previous test procedures.

To date, these test procedures have not been part of realized tests and are not taken as a basis for the EN or UIAA standards as well. Therefore these new findings must be yielded to the committees for standards as soon as possible. As a result of the meeting of the UIAA safety committee with 16 manufacturers of via ferrata sets, the UIAA has announced to revise its safety standard for via ferrata sets to that effect.

The new additional tests procedures plan to test the elastic lanyards with at least 50000 pulling movements with and without dirt, respectively. The minimum breaking strength of the lanyards have to be 9 kN after passing the tests, not only at new condition.

The known causes for ruptures of textile climbing material, such as harnesses, slings, ropes, had been manageable up to now. And ruptures have been very rare. Causes in the past had been shearing-off e.g. by sharp edges and load or rock fall, or fault sewings, or acids such as car battery's liquid. Age or grade of usage or dirt did not assume a significant causative role. The replacement state of wear is a highly controversial theme in actual discussions.

Unobservable damages are a problem in fact, although for via ferrata sets and shock absorbers in utilitarian alpinism the replacement of the absorber after a fall incidence is dictated, whether there are visible damages or not.

For this reason the question occurs, if the test procedures for particular groups of climbing equipment have to be changed in general. Concerning ropes, the requested test of shearing-off performance on sharp edges could not be achieved. As a result, some manufacturers do this test and others don't. It is under dispute, if the test is well-engineered.

The problem of breaking edge-borne carabiners remains, e.g. via ferrata carabiners on the clamp of the steel rope in a fall case. In some cases the manufacturers advanced on their own. But not the standard specifications. Not every manufacturer takes this danger into consideration.

Also the standard test procedure for carabiners (in this case: non locking carabiners and quickdraws) does not consider dynamic forces, but only constant static loads. Although investigations of the International Sports Engineering Association (ISEA) in 2009 have shown significant differences between the measured breaking strength of carabiners in the static tests complying with the standard versus the results of dynamic tests. According to the low standard specifications, carabiner cracks are probable. Up to now, these findings did not find their way into the standards nor did they change the test procedures.

In some groups of climbing equipment the UIAA has always raised the bar for security standards higher than applicable standards. Thereby, in realizing their standards, the UIAA will probably be faster than the appropriate national and European committee for standards. To refer to current standards thus has always been problematical.

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