Sling protection

21 February 2017

I was asked by the editor of American Cranes and Transport to contribute an article on sling safety after I sent her an email relative to an advertisement depicting personnel working dangerously in the fall zone as they “walked” the load. The depiction of hazardous situations happen regularly, not just in sling and rigging publications, but in company sales brochures, catalogs and web content.  

When pictures depict hazardous conditions they speak much louder than words, and in the process, subliminal and clearly dangerous messages are disseminated not by design, but by default. Manufacturers should review marketing materials, internet content and sales information from the perspective of safety, which is sometimes dwarfed by an over zealous marketing message. An example could be a seemingly nascent statement such as “…resists damage from all chemicals.”

With a 44-year tenure in the manufacture of synthetic slings and a 37-year training career, I will address some of my concerns that need to be considered by rigging products manufacturers, safety and training professionals, regulatory and consensus-standards writing organizations, as well as responsible corporate entities engaged in load-handling activities.

The vast preponderance of synthetic sling accidents resulting in injury, death and/or property damage is a direct result of inadequate and/or the total absence of sling protection. This can be substantiated by industry professionals who spend much time providing expert witness testimony in matters of litigation. Another source which lends further credence to my statement is the 2009 US-DOE Report, “Synthetic Sling Failure-Evaluations and Recommendations,” (RPP-RPT-42583 Rev 0) authored by Thomas Mackey, P.E. In every one of the 13 accident scenarios either inadequate or the total absence of sling protection was a common factor.

Based on the premise that a synthetic sling is acceptable for the intended use, any informed rigger given the choice would select synthetic slings over other sling types. There are certain advantages and limitations for all sling types. Synthetic slings, while lighter than wire and chain, are not as robust and are more susceptible to damage from cutting and/or abrasion. Great stridesSling and rigging training have enabled great strides in establishing the awareness and need for sling protection, but much work still needs to be done by the regulatory and consensus-writing groups, as well as by sling and rigging manufacturers and employers who use load-handling equipment.

The regulatory language mandating the use of sling protection is clear and concise. Synthetic rope, web and roundslings shall be protected from damage (cutting and abrasion) by materials of sufficient strength, thickness and construction. Given the specific terminology, one must agree that sling protection is not optional, but mandatory whenever the potential for sling damage is present.

The language looks and sounds great, but unfortunately it leaves far too much to the imagination. Sufficient strength, thickness and construction could well be interpreted to mean fire hose, conveyor belting, shop rags, leather gloves, paint strips, etc. Sling, rigging and material-handling industry professionals – and those who promulgate, regulate and enforce standards – continue to grapple with the differences in responsibility for qualified, competent, designated and appointed persons. Irrespective of the title or terminology, responsibility for use is predicated on knowledge, skill and/or experience acquired in many different ways enabling the responsible party to identify and mitigate hazards such as sling damage and/or sling failure resulting from, but not limited to, cutting and abrasion.

Over the past six years, some have attempted to address the specific need for sling protection standards. Discussions have taken place at the semi-annual meetings of the Web Sling and Tie Down Association (WSTDA), the technical meetings of the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators and at meetings of the B30.9 Sling Subcommittee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The successful use of sling protection and other load-handling devices comes from the combined efforts of regulators and responsible manufacturers who follow codes and recommendations, not strictly from a sense of compliance based on fine avoidance, but are earnestly done to provide an environment of safe and proper product use in a hazard-free work place.

Ultimately, the user makes or breaks these combined efforts by making proper or poor decisions. The advice to choose wisely or regret poor choices for the rest of one’s life rings true in this and many other situations. Shooting from the hip, making up the rigging plan as we go and/or hoping that all will work out well are tragic mistakes that defy good sense and proper practices and have profoundly adverse consequences.Breaking the cycleRegulatory and consensus-standards writing groups, working with manufacturers, need to develop recommended standard specifications and/or standards that specifically addresses materials, design factors, identification, repair, testing, inspection requirements and operating practices for sling protection. The underlying question is when will the process of sling protection standards development occur?

Users must also be trained to only use the equipment they have been trained to use. By default, sling users are “left to their own devices” to attain compliance and far too much responsibility is being placed on the “qualified” person. Shop rags may well be deemed adequate by one and not by another.

Years ago I took a call from a metal service center. They had cut a sling and dropped a load with no adverse consequences. The purpose of the call was to order another sling with a sleeve made from webbing, the same material as the sling. Insanity could be defined as a repetition of the same action with the expectation of a different result. We were able to end the insanity by conveying that if the sling material was previously cut, then a “sleeve” of the same material could also be cut and helped in the selection of a more robust type of sling protection. A common and dangerous practice is the use of 1/8-inch thick abrasion-resistant, bulked nylon material, known by the DuPont® brand name Cordura®, as sling protection to prevent cutting. This material may provide abrasion protection when compared with nylon and/or polyester webbing, but will not prevent damage from cutting.Sling slangAnother unsafe practice is the use of outdated and dangerous language that can send mixed and potentially hazardous signals. All parties must refrain and re-train in their use of sling protection terminology. The terms “wear” protection and/or “softeners” needs to be expunged from our vocabularies. Some of the commentary, if taken in isolation, may seem insignificant, but when taken holistically in context could make a significant difference in the lives of sling users. Together, we can make a difference by considering some basic facts relative to sling protection and taking action to change our way of thinking and the perspectives of others.

Five separate sling protection safety bulletins are being prepared for final review and will accompany all Lift-It sling protection devices. Each bulletin is comprised of warnings and guidance relative to the labeling, use and inspection of sling protection. Developed at a significant cost, these bulletins will be donated to the WSTDA, and I’m hopeful will become the basis for a sling protection safety standard. This gift is to assist in the pursuit of happiness and the protection of life and property.

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D.Ann Shiffler Editor, American Cranes & Transport Tel: +1 512 869 8838 E-mail:
Matt Burk VP Sales Tel: +1 773 610 9467 E-mail: