ISHN readers have probably heard of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, but there is still a great deal of confusion surrounding the term and how the technology is used in conjunction with fall protection equipment.

RFID technology significantly improves efficiency when tracking and logging safety equipment and also streamlines and standardizes the process. Recent estimates show that companies using RFID technology can achieve between 35 to 50 percent improvement in time savings over a pencil and paper recording system. Further, RFID tracking systems provide electronic inspection records rather than handwritten notes, helping to ensure all equipment is being tracked and recorded accurately, promoting worker safety.

Time-saving tracking

The “R” in RFID signifies that radio waves are used to transmit data from identification tags on a piece of equipment to a handheld device. This allows the device’s user to easily see where pieces of fall protection equipment are located in real time and what working condition they are in. Tracking and reporting is an often-overlooked aspect of fall protection, but ensuring that equipment is regularly checked and approved for use is critical to worker safety. RFID ensures that the equipment each worker receives is compliant with all applicable safety standards and regulations and has been inspected on-schedule. Not only does RFID technology simplify the process of tracking and checking inventory, but also it saves companies time, money and stress.

RFID & fall equipment

Many fall protection manufacturers are embracing the RFID trend, and a great deal of equipment now comes embedded with an RFID chip as a standard feature. This is something to consider when investigating and purchasing fall protection equipment — the equipment is ready to be used with an RFID system immediately. As mentioned earlier, fall protection equipment embedded with RFID technology makes managing a safety program easier and more cost-effective.

A typical RFID technology system for fall protection equipment is comprised of RFID tags, PDA readers and a Web portal. Each RFID tag is programmed with a unique ID that registers the model type and history of the equipment it is linked to. The passive tag emits radio waves that transmit a variety of coded information to the PDA when the reader in the device activates the chip. The PDA displays the product make and model and upcoming and past inspections, in addition to jobsite and worker assignment. This data is linked to a personalized Web portal which can provide further information, including user manuals, inspection checklists, training records, industry regulations, product advisories and other useful tools.

If a piece of fall protection equipment does not have an embedded RFID tag and was produced before this technology was available, retrofitting kits can help. The kits are widely available for all types of equipment, regardless of brand, to extend the benefits of RFID technology to an existing inventory. To start electronic record keeping with a retrofitting kit, the tag is simply attached to the piece of equipment and the user is prompted to enter the model number, make and date of manufacture.

System considerations

When looking for an RFID technology system to track and check fall protection equipment, consider:

  • Systems that offer a due-diligence report, keep track of inspection logs for product reliability and safety, and verify compliance.
  • RFID technology with standard and customizable inspection checklists to ensure more consistent inspections with detailed notations, photos and inspection status.
  • Systems that advise site managers of upcoming or overdue inspections.
  • Inventory control that tracks inventory on the jobsite in real time and helps prevent theft.
  • Information management that provides technical support and instant access to key information.
  • Storage — does the company want an external provider to host RFID-related data or do they want to use their own corporate computers or network server?


Moving forward

At the click of a mouse, RFID technology enables equipment tracking, equipment compliance and most importantly, worker safety. With all the benefits RFID technology provides, it’s no wonder most fall protection manufacturers are choosing to embed RFID tags in standard equipment and develop their own RFID safety systems. Like many technologies today, once companies start using RFID systems for fall protection equipment, it’s hard to imagine going back.