Safety alert issued over soft sling failures due to incorrect use

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 16 February, 2021 - 12:45
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert highlighting the dangers of the incorrect use of soft slings when lifting loads.

The alert was issued following a number of incidents involving soft sling failures in workplaces, resulting in life-threatening injuries and serious near-misses.

Incorrect use of soft slings (also known as synthetic fibre slings) can result in the sudden failure of a sling, even when the load being lifted is below the working load limit of the sling.

While soft slings are well suited to certain applications, the alert said they also have a number of limitations.

One of the most common causes of failure when using soft slings is lifting a load that has an edge with a small radius (sharp edge), rather than a rounded edge. An edge with a small radius can easily cut through a soft sling that is under load.

What may appear to be a blunt edge on a load may still be sharp enough to cut a soft sling when pressure is applied. The edge of a load only has to be relatively sharp when compared to the thickness of the soft sling in order for the sling to be cut.

Soft slings may also easily be cut by coming into contact with an obstruction while under load.

Soft slings are also more susceptible to damage than other sling types, which may cause them to fail below their working load limit. Soft slings can be damaged by poor storage and handling practices, dirt and grit in the synthetic fibres, prolonged exposure to UV light (sunlight) and exposure to chemicals, grease and oil or excessive heat.

The alert recommended a number of ways to control risks, and before lifting a load, a risk assessment should be conducted to decide the type of sling that is most suitable to lift the load safely.

Sling selection needs to take into consideration:

  • the nature of the load, including the potential for slings to be damaged by the load’s edges or surface
  • whether the load is to be lifted in a confined area and the potential for external obstructions to cause damage to the slings
  • the environment the slings are to be used in (eg. heat, chemicals, dirt/dust)
  • the working load limit of the slings

Where a soft sling may come into contact with a relatively sharp edge of a load, appropriate cut-resistant material (for example a protective sleeve or pad) between the sling and the edges of the load should be used.

Soft slings should also be inspected prior to each use, and also undergo a thorough inspection at least every three months. Where slings are exposed to harsh operating or storage conditions, a more frequent inspection regime should be conducted. Inspections should be conducted by a competent person who is trained in the inspection of soft slings.

Soft slings should be stored in a clean and dry location away from direct sunlight and exposure to chemicals. They should be stored off the ground on a rack or stand.

Care should be taken not to drag them along the ground which can cause abrasive damage to the synthetic fibres.

When cleaning soft slings, the alert said to only use water or mild detergent and consult the manufacturer’s instructions.