RTFM – not a luxury!

The tragic story of Tito Traversa goes to prove this.

Traversa, a 12 year-old rock climbing child prodigy fell to his death near Grenoble in 2013 due to his quickdraw slings having been misassembled by another person – who exactly remains is subject of an on-going investigation – , this person unintentionally passed the karabiner only through the rubber retaining element, rather through both the retainer and the quickdraw sling.

Part of the aftermath of such a tragedy, besides the psychological and emotional trauma for all concerned, are legal proceedings in an attempt to establish who was at fault. In this case, five people have been charged on manslaughter charges: the owner of the company that produced the rubber keepers without instructions, and the owner of the gear shop that sold the keepers. The manager of the club that organized the climbing trip, as well as two of the instructors who were on site, have also been charged for failing to monitor the assembly of the equipment.

Why not the person who threaded the quickdraws? The common link between all persons charged is that they were involved in the case at a professional level.

Could the providing of user instructions have prevented this incident? The fact that the owner of the company that manufactured the quickdraw slings is indicted is possibly an indicator that there may be an issue that the user manual, either by not being provided or having been found lacking. Yet really, the question whether this could have prevented the accident is somewhat of a moot point.

The PPE directive 89/686/EEC and also the General Product Safety Directive 2011/95/EC are very clear on the legally binding necessity to provide appropriate and sufficient information to the end user, consisting of:

  • Title page, product name, type or code, trade name, image;
  • Technical specifications and certification (Declaration of Conformity);
  • Relation to other documents;
  • Contents, list of images, icons and attachments;
  • Introduction: indications for the use of the user manual;
  • General safety prescriptions;
  • Description of the product, composition of the product;
  • Implementation, installation, adjustments;
  • Description of the operation, how to use the product, application possibilities;
  • Maintenance and maintenance schedule;
  • Storage and transport;
  • Faults and repairing;
  • Accessories, and peripherals;
  • Dismantle, environment;
  • Index;
  • Glossary;
  • Attachments

Proof of appropriate and sufficient information being provided to the end user is part of the CE certification process and will be looked at closely by the notified body prior to confirming conformity to the relevant regulations and standards.

I was in a local climbing shop a while back when this chap bought one of Petzl’s Micro Traxions. He asked the vendor, after having paid, whether he could leave the packaging there. No probs, replied the sales person – and in the bin the whole lot went. But… so did the user instructions – and that is a really serious omission on the part of the vendor! Instructions MUST be delivered with the product. If the user then decides to discard them, that becomes his or her decision.

User instructions should not be an afterthought, something a manufacturer d0es because they are required to by law, rather this document needs to be seen as a core element in the communication between said manufacturer and the end user.

This being said, I am all the more gobsmacked by the low quality of the information supplied with some products sold into tree care. True, a manufacturer in the US is subject to different requirements, but the fact remains that a dealer importing equipment from the US to Europe in order to sell it on within Europe becomes, from a legal point of view, the manufacturer of that piece of gear. In case of an incident, should it be found that appropriate information has not been supplied or is lacking, such a reseller might well face consequences similar to the Traversa case described above. Manslaughter charges are a very serious matter – regardless of which geographic region you happen to be manufacturing in.

All of this does not by any means relate only to Personal Protective Equipment. Rigging equipment falls under the machinery directive 2006/42/EC which makes even more stringent demands than the PPE directive in regards to information that shall be provided.

And of course the information shall be provided in all languages of the countries the product is sold into.

A bit over the top, you say?

Not really.

You are entitled to a statement by the manufacturer explaining how they have tested the device you just bought, how it was designed to be used and what they consider to be appropriate use, as well as foreseeable errors. Sometimes even gear that appears superficially to be intuitive in handling can cause unexpected problems.

Such as quick draw slings and rubber retainers.