In an unprecedented case, a couple of brands of climbing material have volunteered to recall a vast number of their via ferrata sets. This came in the aftermath of a deadly accident with one casualty in Austria in August. According to information from the alpine clubs, it has never happened before that a set of that type failed to keep its user safe after a fall of several meters. In the accident, two elasticated webbing branches tore apart without any sign of excessive use of the material or other impacts. This is unprecedented in the climbing industry, and a local state attorney has announced in-depth investigations.
The alpine clubs and the Kuratorium für Alpine Sicherheit (“foundation for alpine safety”) made clear that only sets with elasticated straps (and not static ones) may potentially cause safety problems – but not all of them: Research by TÜV Süd, the testing company, has indicated that some products of the following companies are affected and have been recalled by their marketers: AustriAlpin, CT, Edelrid, Edelweiss, Ocún, Singing Rock, Stubai and Wild Country.
Most of these companies have been very busy informing both retailers and consumers about the recalls, notably Edelrid, which has recalled seven models of its wide range of via ferrata sets. While TÜV Süd identified 24 different items from those eight companies, the entire industry feels affected by the tragic accident and the consequences for the manufacturers. Stefan Rosenkranz, managing director of Salewa Germany, whose products in this category are not affected, told this publication that the companies have been working closely together to take care of the safety of their customers and to prevent the industry as a whole from damage to its image, and that companies do their best to keep that type of sport safe.
While the vendors were busy informing the consumers about the situation, the echo among customers was huge: Christian Jaeggi, the head of Black Diamond in Europe, said that he had not seen anything like that ever before: The company receives five to 10 letters per day from worried customers who need advice – even though BD's products are not involved in the situation.
Some vendors criticized the alpine clubs and the Kuratorium for their clumsy notice, which put the potential problems with elasticated straps at the top, suggesting that the product is dangerous in general, while the reader would find an elaborate chart with the products and brands that are (un-)affected by the whole issue.
On top of this, the matter is also a supply-chain issue, because many brands do not produce that type of webbing branches, but instead buy them from suppliers in the Far East. Some of them share their suppliers, which increases the risk that not just one brand, but several could be forced to recall their items because they came from the same source.