The new via ferrata standard, which will come into effect in summer 2017, will involve changes for us as well as for you. Product developer Robert Krüger has explained the details to us, providing the answers to our most important questions.
As you will no doubt have already heard, a revised version of the via ferrata standard is due to come into effect soon. We had a chat with Robert Krüger, who explained why the new standard is required, the differences between the new standard EN 958:2017 and the previous EN 958:2011, what’s new for end customers and sport retailers and the critical role played by an energy absorbing lanyard. Robert Krüger has been working for SKYLOTEC since 2009 and is now responsible for the development of textile Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the sport and industry sectors.
Question: The new version of the EN 958 standard for via ferrata sets is due to come out soon. What’s it all about?
Robert Krüger: The EN 958 standard is essentially about the use of energy absorbing lanyards on via ferratas. This is the fastener used to attach the harness to the anchor point. In the event of a fall, it ruptures and guarantees protection against serious injury for the person falling, by reducing the impact force to a maximum of 6 Kn (kilonewtons), which is the equivalent of a 600 kilo weight. Climbing on a via ferrata without an energy-absorbing fastener – or lanyard – means that the belay loop of the climbing harness and anchor points will be briefly subjected to impact forces, which can be in excess of 20 kN (2 tonnes) for a fall height of three metres. This causes massive injuries and can lead to total equipment failure.
Question: Why is the via ferrata standard being revised now?
Robert Krüger: Studies carried out over the past few years have shown that, particularly for lighter people weighing under 50 kilos (such as women or children), acceleration forces can be very high in the event of a fall, since the energy absorbing lanyard only ruptures a little or indeed not at all. The risk of injury increases significantly because of the higher acceleration forces. This means that, for lighter users, there needs to be a lower threshold at which the energy absorbing lanyard is triggered. For user weights of up to 40 kg, there is now a maximum impact force of 3.5 kN.
An energy absorbing lanyard (in orange) is a vital piece of via ferrata equipment.
Question: Does the new standard also come up with a solution for the fact that the average adult has been getting heavier and heavier in recent years?
Robert Krüger: Yes, the standard has also been revised to take this into account. Until now, via ferrata sets have been designed for a body weight of 80 kilos. In excess of this limit, manufacturers had to specify a maximum permitted user weight, guaranteeing that the product would not rip apart in the event of a fall. The updated standard means that manufacturers now have to take developments in the general public into account. The maximum user weight is now 120 kilos and the maximum forces acting on the body in the event of a fall must not exceed 6 kN. This is also important because it doesn’t just take the user’s own body weight into account. Anyone wearing additional equipment, such as the compulsory helmet, suitable footwear and, perhaps, a heavy backpack, will be carrying a few extra kilos.
Question: So do the new via ferrata sets, covering a weight range of 40 to 120 kilos, provide a suitable solution for all users?
Robert Krüger: They at least cover the majority of users. So the risk of a user taking an energy absorbing lanyard that is not suitable for his weight is reduced. However, there are also users – such as children – who weigh less than 40 kilos even with the equipment. They are not covered by the new standard. For children who are not yet ready to take responsibility for themselves and have not developed the necessary motor skills, we recommend that additional safety is provided using a top rope – a rope attached to an anchor system at the top with a partner providing additional safety for the climber. For people who don’t have the confidence to do this, a mountain guide should be appointed to lead the tour or you can learn the necessary skills by going on a suitable training course, such as those offered by climbing schools and local climbing clubs.
Also suitable for women: Via ferrata sets with a weight range of 40 to 120 kilos.
Question: Isn’t it a major challenge to optimise via ferrata sets so that they comply with the standard?
Robert Krüger: For me and my colleagues in product development, making products simpler and therefore safer for users is part of our everyday work. For us, product development means taking on responsibility and eliminating risks through misuse. After all, our products protect people at heights. And, as far as the actual example of the EN 958 is concerned, the fact that we have been working intensively on developing energy absorbing lanyards for years was definitely a great help.
Question: Could you explain that in more detail?
Robert Krüger: For the industrial sector, we have already developed an energy absorbing lanyard, which complies with standards and offers better performance than the solutions that were available previously. We were the first manufacturer to be able to cover a wide weight range of 50 to 140 kilos, without neglecting the requirements of industry standards for energy absorbing lanyards. This makes it easier for users to find the right PPE because they don’t have to choose from various weight categories. With our SKYSAFE PRO, we have already developed a shock absorption system for use in industry. This means that we have already proven that it is possible to achieve an impact force that does not depend on user weight. Nobody else had seen this technical potential before. We used this expertise from industry to develop our via ferrata sets.
Question: Do I need to worry about using a via ferrata set that complies with the old standard?
Robert Krüger: Definitely not! The old sets are no less safe than the ones that comply with the new standard. They can be used until they have reached the end of their useful service and storage life. In fact, manufacturers are already required by law to provide clear information on this. However, we recommend that particularly light or heavy people switch to using the new sets, which comply with the new standard due to come into effect soon. After all, the latest developments demonstrate that these new sets significantly reduce the risk of accidents.
Question: What will change for me as a via ferrata climber?
Robert Krüger: The enhanced safety standards are obvious. You can also expect energy absorbing lanyards to increase in weight and volume as more strap material will need to be stored. This is because the permitted braking distance has been increased from 120 cm to 220 cm in the new standard. This is the only way of absorbing the energy when a user weighing 120 kilos falls a distance of five metres.
Question: Can I still get the old via ferrata sets after the revised EN 958:2017 standard comes into force?
Robert Krüger: We reckon that the new standard will be released between May and June 2017. As soon as it comes out, clear specifications will apply to manufacturers and distributors of via ferrata sets. We are only allowed to manufacture, certify and supply sets that comply with the new standard. However, until they have reached the end of their specified storage, operating and service life, sets complying with the old standard that are still in stock in the wholesale or retail trade may still be sold – with the proviso that they are only used until they have reached the end of the storage, operating and service life specified by the manufacturer.
Robert, thank you very much for your detailed answers and your explanations of the new via ferrata standard.