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Scaffolding Related Lifting Operations: Rope Inspection and Maintenance

Our Affiliate Partners, The Scaffolding Association, has provided some guidance around rope inspection and maintenance.

As part of a SMAS Worksafe assessment for a scaffolding related trade, our assessors would be looking for inspection records, which you can upload into question 2 to demonstrate part of your companies monitoring, audit and review.

Ropes are often a key component in a scaffolding contractor’s lifting operations, and there is a wide range of British Standards in place that specify their physical properties and specific inspection and retirement criteria. Here, we look at what a suitable and thorough examination and inspection process could look like:

Marking and identification

Ropes should be individually identifiable in such a way that their history from manufacture can be clearly followed. It should also be possible to trace and identify on which site each item of equipment is being used, to prevent the use of any equipment that hasn’t been thoroughly examined. Best practice would be to allocate a unique identification number which is marked on the ropes. Alternatively, the use of different colour spots could be implemented to indicate when they were last examined.

Storage

When not in use, ropes should be stored correctly to avoid them undergoing any significant deterioration through excessive bending, gnawing from rodents, or exposure to damp or extreme temperature changes. Textile materials should be stored in the dark within a bag or container. To avoid incorrect items being used, it is important to store those of significantly different ages, performance abilities or sizes separately in clearly labelled positions.

Inspection before dispatch

Even with careful storage, ropes can suffer deterioration. Therefore, ropes should always be thoroughly inspected by someone who is competent to recognise significant faults and ensure that the rope has adequate strength and is in good condition before it is dispatched to the site. Ropes should be manufactured to a known standard, of the required length and size, free from damage and contamination, and compatible with the other components in use for the lifting operations.

Pre-use checks

Ropes are often used as a temporary and lightweight component of lifting equipment, therefore the loads to be applied must be carefully assessed to ensure that the support points are capable of supporting them. This assessment should be undertaken by the scaffold designer, or another person competent to assess the impact of the load and strength of the scaffold in line with industry best practice guidance.

Before use, all lifting equipment should be examined and tested by a competent person who will then issue a Handover Certificate confirming the performance capabilities of the equipment in use. This certificate should be signed by both the person checking the structure and equipment and the client to ensure they know the limitations of use.

Weekly inspections

Ropes should be inspected at the same time as the weekly scaffold inspection. This visual inspection should consider:

  • Are they of a suitable length?
  • Are they properly seated in the pulley?
  • Are they free from cuts and abrasions?
  • Are there any areas of significant discolouration or localised melting?

Defects, including any suspected defects, should be reported immediately and the rope’s use prohibited.

Annual inspections

Ropes used for lifting operations must be thoroughly examined every 12 months. However, it is good practice to inspect them for signs of damage or misuse each time they come back from the site. Where ropes remain on-site for periods exceeding 12 months, arrangements should be put in place for them to have a thorough inspection before the 12-month period ends. This inspection should be carried out by a competent person who has experience of the performance limitations and understands the function of the rope so that they will be able to properly judge the significance of wear or damage.

Record keeping

Records must be maintained for the rope’s lifespan and linked to the original manufacturer’s certification and warranty. Comprehensive records and certificates issued concerning the performance capabilities of a rope should be kept and signed and dated by the person making the inspection. Records of weekly inspections should be kept as part of the general scaffold inspection.

A range of substances and effects can quickly and adversely affect textiles, and it is important that the usage history of ropes is kept to help identify the reasons for any discolouration or deterioration. The information gathered from inspections should be monitored periodically to note the rate of deterioration and to help predict when the ropes should be taken out of use.

Disposal

A rope should be disposed of before its rate of deterioration reaches a point where it will not remain fit for use for the forthcoming 12-month period. Ropes deemed no longer fit for purpose must be cut in pieces or otherwise made incapable of reuse.