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Via Ferrata Failures

Greetings MCSA L&G,

This is about some further actions after the fatal accident that occurred on 5-Aug-2012 due to the failure of a via ferrata set in Austria.
There has been some recalls of affected equipment: the via ferrata sets that have elasticated halyards, made by several manufacturers.

I'm not sure if it affects South Africa directly, but perhaps some of the units have made their way over. Or perhaps some MCSA members might rent them in Europe or the USA whilst travelling. And maybe with the current craze in building VF's there might be some locally made systems.

There was an earlier UIAA press release about it that was sent to the MCSA and put on the UIAA web site. This is the general web site where all Safety Commission related releases are put: http://theuiaa.org/certified_equipment.php. There has been a subsequent press release.

In fact that's worth a look from time to time. If I see something interesting I'll notify you.

And a specific notice is here: http://www.theuiaa.org/news_389_Worldwide-warning-to-users-of-via-ferrata-sets

And there are some recall notices on the site as well from the manufacturers.

Attached is a German DAV article from their journal about the issue (in German). And an English translation of the DAV's press release.

The Issue:

The problem is that some Via Ferrata lanyards (which attach the two carabiners to the harness) are elasticated. As the photos in the DAV document show, these can wear during normal usage and at some point will not support a load caused by a fall. The usage prior to failure might be very low loads, perhaps just loaded by normal use stretching and contracting.

There are also problems caused by knotting the lanyards that have also caused accidents, but that's not this issue.

It's to do with the combination of two very different materials, the nylon fibres for strength and the elastic for the recoil so that the clips do not dangle when not in use. And there is also an issue with sand or dirt getting in them, causing more wear. It's more likely to happen with rental units than personally owned ones since it seems to need quite a few load cycles before the working strength is significantly reduced.

The units that failed and others that are being recalled were made according to both the UIAA as well as the EN (European) standard.
So the manufacturers are recalling all affected units, there are many 1,000's of notices put up at all Via Ferrata sites all over Europe, and the standard is being revised.

The problem could also potentially rise in other mountaineering gear, if it uses an elasticated tape/webbing/rope that needs to support a load. However there are not any other types of gear that DO use this method at the moment that we know of.

This is one reason why dynamic climbing ropes are not made with a kevlar or similar sheath: the idea was tried quite a while ago and found to have similar issues.

You are free to distribute this information as you see fit.

There should be some more information being release after a meeting in February about revising the standard.

Alan Jarvis
Materials Engineer
Werner Illenberger,
Jan 9, 2013, 12:11 PM
Werner Illenberger,
Jan 9, 2013, 12:12 PM