The safety equipment and industrial machinery used by U.S. manufacturers is older than you likely expect. The average age for a piece of industrial equipment was over 10 years in 2014, according to an article on Chiefexecutive.net – the highest average age since 1938.
In recent years, U.S. companies have focused their spending on acquisitions and stock buybacks instead of capital investment. As a result, “the equipment used by many U.S. manufacturers is getting creaky.” But how do you know when it’s time to replace your existing equipment?
Unfortunately, there’s no standard way to estimate the useful life of industrial safety products. The lifespan of your safety equipment depends on the following factors:
- Care and maintenance
- Frequency of use
- Whether people have been trained to use it properly
- Harsh work site conditions (such as a chemical plant with caustic materials)
- Environmental factors (for example, corrosion is often more of an issue for marine sites)
Recognizing The Need For Replacement
Here are three general indications that it’s time to replace your safety equipment:
- Obvious Physical Wear Or Fall Risk
Visibly damaged equipment should be replaced. If you noticed a hard hat with a hole in it being used on your site, you would replace it; the same should apply to your gangways and fall prevention equipment.
- New Internal Safety Standards
After an acquisition or merger, your work site may need to conform to a new set of standards. In this case, your existing safety equipment may no longer meet the company’s internal requirements, and should be replaced.
- Changes In Industry-Wide Safety Standards
Redefined industry safety standards could render certain equipment and processes obsolete. You might have a brand-new piece of equipment, but still need to replace it to maintain compliance.
Even when you know that a certain piece of equipment is no longer protecting employees, replacement may still be an uphill battle. When it comes to gangways, fall prevention equipment and other safety systems, decision-makers may not fully realize each piece of equipment’s purpose and role in employee safety. To move forward, it’s essential to communicate with stakeholders and secure their support.
While equipment operators have direct experience with the safety equipment in question, they may not have much input in decision-making. Too often, operators simply accept that the equipment is risky. Conversely, engineers are generally more empowered to make decisions about safety equipment, but they tend to follow preplanned task lists. If replacement is not on the list, it won’t be addressed.
Facility managers are often in the best position to take action on replacing safety equipment. If they see replacement as beneficial to the facility’s performance, efficiency and profitability, they are likely to advocate for the project.
Whether your safety equipment is visibly worn, no longer meets your needs or fails to comply with new regulations, it’s essential to make the necessary changes and improvements to protect your employees’ lives.