LOLER: What does it stand for?
Within the UK, thorough examination of lifting equipment (i.e. a climber’s rope) is covered by the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER). Supported by the Leonardo Lifelong Learning Programme the Project Manager-Billy Robb leads the transfer and innovation of UK equipment inspection standards to further development on a European level. This includes the key areas of training, assessment and methods applied by lifting equipment inspectors throughout Europe.
European standards & regulations: the law
European standards and work at height regulations set-out requirements designed to improve worker safety when working at heights. Sometimes these re-enforce or support existing requirements within a number of European countries. For example, the European Work at Height Regulations 2005 and UK LOLER regulations. Inspection of lifting equipment and competence of inspectors are both critical measures defined within the regulations.
Review of accidents & industries covered by LOLER
Recent UK tree work statistics indicate that: 50% of fatalities related to the use of chainsaws in tree work occur during tree climbing activities; the second highest cause of fatalities are due to falls from a height and the employment status with the highest fatality rate is arborist.
Anecdotal information obtained from arborists related to falls from heights indicates equipment failure has been a factor. This is currently under investigation as part of a European wide analysis of accident and fatality statistics related to working at height. The underlying reasons behind these accidents include other industry sectors (not only arboriculture) such as;
- Adventure/Entertainment activities e.g. theatre productions/rope courses
- Construction-Industrial rope access/Mast climbers/Scaffolders
- Ports/Oil rigs
- Mountaineering/Rock climbing/Caving/Pot-holing
- Roof work
- Window cleaning
- Workplace transport
Review of training standards for equipment inspectors
A mapping exercise of training and education Europe-wide is another area of project research with the aim of harmonising practices and standards across the various sectors involved in work at height activities. Current methods of inspection are primarily qualitative and depending upon the competence of the inspector, are prone to an element of subjectivity. For example, one inspector’s visual and tactile examination on the condition of a climbing harness and subsequent recommendations can vary hugely from the opinion of a different inspector.
More objective or quantitative testing is undertaken by equipment manufacturers but tend to be destructive in nature. A number of different testing devices are in use but are usually too large and immobile to be practical on a wide scale. Another factor within this testing environment is that the material properties tested are usually batch samples from new and do not always reflect the potential effects of the ‘working environment’. For example, the effect of ‘wear and tear’ on a mountaineers rope.
NDT research: penetration method & rope testing device
One key project area under study is the scope and practical application of non-destructive testing (NDT) methods for use on climbing equipment. The following methods were given consideration and evaluated for use:
- Magnetic defectoscopy
- Acoustic emission testing
- Eddy current method
- X-ray defectoscopy
- Ultrasound defectoscopy
- Capillary defectoscopy
Following evaluation, cost and practical application favoured the implementation of the capillary defectoscopy (penetration method) for use. This is a method of flaw detection based on the penetration of any defects present (e.g. crack on karabiner) via a substance through the phenomenon of capillary pressure. The result of this can lead to an artificial increase in the light and colour contrast of the flaws relative to the intact or undamaged areas. This method was selected for investigation of defects in hardware (metal/alloys etc).
Software (textiles) particularly climbing ropes can be extremely difficult to assess purely visually. For this reason the LOLER project scope included options for research and development for materials testing purposes. A rope testing device is under development which detects levels of fibre wear relative to European standards. Ultimately, a defect (e.g. core fibre buckling) which may not be visually observed but which can seriously reduce the working load limit or breaking strength, should be identified during inspection.
LOLER project: the main objective
The LOLER project aims to harmonise current European standards and inspection methods and by utilising a more science-based approach through the development of new tools and techniques, increase work at height safety for all users of lifting equipment.
The project team
A1 Arborists Ltd (United Kingdom): Contacts & lead role-Billy Robb (Project Manager); Kristyna Dvorackova (Project Quality Assurance Coordinator)
University of Mendel (Czech Republic): Contacts & lead role-Pavel Nevrkla (Equipment Testing Consultant)
Fito-consult (Italy): Contact & lead role-Daniele Zanzi (Equipment Testing Consultant)
Tree Care Ireland (Ireland): Contact & lead role-Kevin Birchall (Pilot Tests Consultant)
Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia (Spain): Contacts & lead role-Rosa Ricart (Project Communications Consultant) & Daniel Gabarro (Pilot Tests Consultant)
MWMAC (United Kingdom): Contact & lead role-Chris Hughes (Standards Setting Consultant)
University of Copenhagen (Denmark): Contact & lead role-Henning Johansen (Standards Setting Consultant)
Kamila Jurickova-Mountain Leader Services (Czech Republic): Rope Access Technical Expert
Lukas Neklan-Singing Rock (Czech Republic): Rope Access Technical Expert
Fabian Frank-Frank Tree Care (Germany): Rope Access Technical Expert