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Partner j_ung


Feb 9, 2006, 12:12 PM
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REI Toughens Requirements for Climbing Gear
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If you followed the Alien recall story as it developed (mostly on RC.com), you may have noticed that both Mountaingear.com and REI played major roles in getting a very large number of potentially deadly equipment off the market.

By way of an epilogue in the Alien saga, REI has now announced that it will toughen its standards for all climbing gear, which it refers to as "personal protective equipment" in an OSHA-esque passage of a recent letter to its climbing gear vendors. Though, in the note, REI maintains that this decision has been in the works for almost two years, it's difficult to imagine that the final decision doesn't have at least something to do with the Alien episode.

The full text of the letter follows:

In reply to:
Dear vendor:

I'm writing to inform you of a significant change in REI's climbing gear business.

As you know, climbing is part of REI's heritage and foundation: since 1938 we have been committed to providing great climbing gear as a central part of our business. Today we remain steadfast in our dedication to offer our customers the best performing, highest quality and safest possible gear in the world.

However, in our 68 years of business, a lot has changed with the sport of climbing, from its evolution into segments like indoor climbing, to the higher expectations our customers have for product performance and safety. In keeping with these developments, REI is changing our requirements of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that we carry and sell. As of January 1, 2008, all PPE subject to UIAA standards will need to carry the Safety Label before purchase by REI. On equipment for which there are no UIAA standards, CE certification will be acceptable. For the many climbing products neither addressed by UIAA nor CE standards, there will be no change with our buying procedures.

We believe that requiring standards in North America is a necessary step for our industry and for climbing as an activity. In setting UIAA as the standard, REI will eliminate our proprietary tests and climbing product standards for all products carrying the international certification. We chose the UIAA standards because they are the most current, relevant and influential standards in climbing; UIAA standards include CE requirements and often are adopted as CE revisions. Additionally, participation in the UIAA standards process is open to delegates and manufacturers from around the world. Members of REI's team will be actively involved in the UIAA, bringing their interest and expertise in standards and testing to the
organization.

We recognize that having product certified to UIAA will take time and some investment, which is why we are making this announcement two years out. The most important steps that your company can take right now are to educate yourself on the UIAA certification procedure and become involved in the standards setting process. As always, I and the members of our climbing product teams are available to discuss this change, whether at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show or at another time more convenient to you.

Our adoption of a standards bar that is consistent and peer-reviewed is important and overdue. This change has been under consideration at REI for nearly two years, and it is not in reaction to any recent events with
climbing gear. As I said before, REI is committed to a strong, vibrant climbing business community that delivers innovative product and that is positioned for the long haul. We look forward to continuing to work with you now and into the future.

Again, thank you for your continued partnership with REI. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to call.

Sincerely,
Matt Hyde
Senior Vice President, Merchandising
REI

Cc: Jean-Franck Charlet, UIAA

It is unclear whether or not CCH had CE certification for its merchandise at the time it produced and sold its suspect equipment. CCH does not currently hold ISO or UIAA certification (notably, ISO pertains to consistency of manufacturing process), although, according to DAVE Waggoner of CCH, "We just submitted it [an application for ISO]."

J_ung


anykineclimb


Feb 9, 2006, 12:48 PM
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In reply to:
..REI will eliminate our proprietary tests and climbing product standards for all products carrying the international certification.

I think may be an effort to reduce their liability. Keeps someone from saying "well YOU said it was safe!!!"

Isn't ISO just a quality of production standard? If I recall correctly for Climbing magazine,it has nothing to do with the safety, it certifies that the prodution of said product is consistent. Right?


Partner j_ung


Feb 9, 2006, 12:50 PM
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In reply to:
In reply to:
..REI will eliminate our proprietary tests and climbing product standards for all products carrying the international certification.

I think may be an effort to reduce their liability. Keeps someone from saying "well YOU said it was safe!!!"

Isn't ISO just a quality of production standard? If I recall correctly for Climbing magazine,it has nothing to do with the safety, it certifies that the prodution of said product is consistent. Right?

Yes, that's correct. ISO alone doesn't paint a very complete picture. But together with CE and/or UIAA, it says the design is good and the gear is made the same everytime.


jabtocrag


Feb 9, 2006, 1:08 PM
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I can only guess what their motives are for this decision, but I can't see how this won't be a good thing for the climbing community in the long run.


roy_hinkley_jr


Feb 9, 2006, 1:10 PM
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This is basically just a cost-saving measure by REI that is gussied up to look like they care about something besides dollars. There was once movement to create ASTM standards for climbing gear because UIAA was so weak and biased in many areas (still is). Ultimately it just means some REI execs will get a bigger bonus as their Wal-Marting of the outdoors continues.


caughtinside


Feb 9, 2006, 1:13 PM
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As of 2008.


tradklime


Feb 9, 2006, 1:14 PM
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In reply to:
It is unclear whether or not CCH had CE certification for its merchandise at the time it produced and sold its suspect equipment. CCH does not currently hold ISO or UIAA certification (notably, ISO pertains to consistency of manufacturing process), although, according to DAVE Waggoner of CCH, "We just submitted it [an application for ISO]."

J_ung

Interestingly, I'm fairly certain that the tag on one of my girlfriend's recently purchased dimpled aliens included a statement that aliens are both CE and UIAA certified.


Partner j_ung


Feb 9, 2006, 1:22 PM
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In reply to:
As of 2008.

Right. They're definitely giving their vendors time to comply.

In reply to:
This is basically just a cost-saving measure by REI that is gussied up to look like they care about something besides dollars. There was once movement to create ASTM standards for climbing gear because UIAA was so weak and biased in many areas (still is). Ultimately it just means some REI execs will get a bigger bonus as their Wal-Marting of the outdoors continues.

I have a lot of friends who share this overall view of REI, but throughout the Alien episode, the impression I got from speaking to them is that they're a good bit less evil than some people think. That's just my opinion, of course, but I think it's a good one. As for it just being a cost-saving measure, perhaps... Remember, however, that they also lost money in Aliengate, but it didn't stop them from doing the right thing.


golgiapp


Feb 9, 2006, 1:30 PM
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In reply to:
There was once movement to create ASTM standards for climbing gear because UIAA was so weak and biased in many areas (still is).

They do have ASTM standards for climbing gear, I've never seen any gear claiming to conform to the standards but they do exist. It's a pretty interesting read if your a enginerd like myself.


Partner j_ung


Feb 9, 2006, 1:36 PM
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In reply to:
In reply to:
It is unclear whether or not CCH had CE certification for its merchandise at the time it produced and sold its suspect equipment. CCH does not currently hold ISO or UIAA certification (notably, ISO pertains to consistency of manufacturing process), although, according to DAVE Waggoner of CCH, "We just submitted it [an application for ISO]."

J_ung

Interestingly, I'm fairly certain that the tag on one of my girlfriend's recently purchased dimpled aliens included a statement that aliens are both CE and UIAA certified.

Dave Waggoner told me as much when I interviewed him the day after the recall was announced. However, that information conflicted with what another source told me earlier. Which one should I believe? I honestly don't know, hence the word, "unclear." I stopped digging after I interviewed Waggoner. However, in an off-the-record conversation a couple weeks ago, a source I trust implicitly contradicted some other of Dave's other information. Therefore, I take everything CCH told me that day with a grain of salt.


maldaly


Feb 9, 2006, 1:41 PM
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As a manufacturer I'm psyched that REI is getting on board with these international standards. It's been pretty confusing in the past to have gear that is certified CE or UIAA yet not have it meet REIs tests, or vice-versa. REI began testing gear when they began importing climbing gear from europe. I don't remember if this was pre or post-ice age but it was a great service because much of the euro gear was crap. As the euros got their act together and began to produce beautiful gear, and as the European Union came together and developed meaningful standards, it only made sense for REI to ask for compliance to these standards.
Mal


daithi


Feb 9, 2006, 1:42 PM
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In fairness the UIAA test for cams is not that difficult to pass. I would be amazed if any cam out there didn't pass it (except for maybe zeros or similar). The strength test is just that the minimum rated strength is 5 kN tested at two different cam angles. Getting ISO certification will be a bigger deal for CCH.


In reply to:
...because UIAA was so weak and biased in many areas (still is).

Care to elaborate?


healyje


Feb 9, 2006, 2:10 PM
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Malcolm, thanks for your comments and perspective - you 'da man when it comes to watching all our backs on such matters. I personally think the industry ought to put together a trade group with a technical council and draft you to head it all up.

An effort by a player in any part of our industry to raise the bar is commendable. For REI, as a major retailer, to more formally organize their participation in standards efforts is extremely helpful and laudable. It might also be helpful if they demanded full ISO 9001/2/14000 compliance by all PPE suppliers as well; though I'd put the deadline out to 2010 for compliance to all three. I think in the case of CCH the ISO9001/2 standards offer far more assistance in their current effort to reorganize their manufacturing. It's to Dave's credit that he recognizes that and has begun heading down that road.


healyje


Feb 9, 2006, 2:17 PM
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Malcolm, thanks for your comments and perspective - you 'da man when it comes to watching all our backs on such matters. I personally think the industry ought to put together a trade group with a technical council and draft you to head it all up.

An effort by a player in any part of our industry to raise the bar is commendable. For REI, as a major retailer, to more formally organize their participation in standards efforts is extremely helpful and laudable. It might also be helpful if they demanded full ISO 9001/2/14000 compliance by all PPE suppliers as well; though I'd put the deadline out to 2010 for compliance to all three. I think in the case of CCH the ISO9001/2 standards offer far more assistance in their current effort to reorganize their manufacturing. It's to Dave's credit that he recognizes that and has begun heading down that road.


stevsop


Feb 9, 2006, 2:34 PM
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In reply to:
Isn't ISO just a quality of production standard? If I recall correctly for Climbing magazine,it has nothing to do with the safety, it certifies that the prodution of said product is consistent. Right?

If CCH had an ISO system in place then they could have identified which production batches the faulty cams were in and issued a recall based on the cam's serial #, instead of having people look for a dimple. What if there had not been a dimple?

ISO allows a mfg. to identify and recall specific production batches, and furthermore to identify which material lots (i.e. a specific shipment of aluminum or webbing) were used to create the product, find other batches made with the same material, identify which retailers the batches were sent to, etc.

This doesn't make your cam stronger, but it makes it safer by helping quality control and aiding recalls.

Personally I can't believe there are climbing hardware mfg.s who are not ISO compliant. BD all the way, baby.


healyje


Feb 9, 2006, 2:45 PM
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In reply to:
What if there had not been a dimple?

It would all be remarkably messier and unpleasant for all involved so it was fortuitous that there was.

In reply to:
Personally I can't believe there are climbing hardware mfg.s who are not ISO compliant. BD all the way, baby.

Well, it's a cottage industry that has only really come of age in the past ten years. CCH is one of the last to make the transition. ISO is a very big deal and it took most of the '90s for US manufacturers to get on board so it's pretty reasonable that our industry is where it is today. BD was probably just ahead of the curve, but then given their painful genesis out of Chouinard that is not all that unexpected.


roy_hinkley_jr


Feb 9, 2006, 2:46 PM
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In reply to:
In fairness the UIAA test for cams is not that difficult to pass. I would be amazed if any cam out there didn't pass it. The strength test is just that the minimum rated strength is 5 kN tested at two different cam angles. Getting ISO certification will be a bigger deal for CCH.

In reply to:
...because UIAA was so weak and biased in many areas (still is).

Care to elaborate?

You partially proved the point ;-) The cam test ain't nothin to get excited about. Helmet tests are antique at best. The fiasco with independent labs that had such inconsistent results a rope company could shop around for results they wanted. The so-called "sharp edge" rope test was another marketing joke that had to be recinded. Lots of other examples of UIAA weirdness and politicing.

Certification means a lot less than many think. ISO is essentially just a book keeping standard with 3 levels, the lowest is pretty minimal. ISO is irrelevant since PPE gear has CE approval and that's built into the requirements. Golgiapp, you may be correct on ASTM; I didn't think they cleared the last hurdle to become official but it's moot either way.

This REI move doesn't really mean much, except for PR. Basically everyone in the climbing biz already has UIAA certs since they can't sell in Europe without. By '08 CCH likely won't be around. So who's left that REI would even carry? All I can think of is perhaps Misty and Yates and they may have UIAA already.


daithi


Feb 9, 2006, 2:55 PM
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Personally I can't believe there are climbing hardware mfg.s who are not ISO compliant. BD all the way, baby.

Me neither! I think most manufacturers are though. I know DMM and Wild Country in the UK are ISO 9001 certified. Petzl, BD (in the US), Metolius (is this a US manufacturer?) etc. are all ISO 9001.


daithi


Feb 9, 2006, 2:59 PM
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In reply to:
You partially proved the point ;-) The cam test ain't nothin to get excited about.

I agree it is not that hard to pass, but that is different to saying I believe the test is inadequate.


Partner tgreene


Feb 9, 2006, 4:16 PM
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In reply to:
Malcom ... I personally think the industry ought to put together a trade group with a technical council and draft you to head it all up.
Yep!

I suggested an industry tribal council back when all of this first erupted, stating that if the industry didn't get together on their own, it would only be a matter of time until the NON-CLIMBING bureaucrats and lawyers did it for them.


healyje


Feb 9, 2006, 4:38 PM
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The easiest way to think about ISO is that it strives to bring consistency to manufacturing and service processes. It is mostly a case of "write down what you do" - the easy part; and then "do [only] what you wrote down" - actually the harder part.

There are various technical requirements around documentaion and tracking as mentioned, but the above is the heart of it all. Consistency, in this case, is not the "hobgoblin of small minds" but rather the hallmark of enlightened ones...


cam


Feb 9, 2006, 5:31 PM
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The company that currently pays me to piss away 9 hours of my life, five days a week applied for and won ISO certification about 3 or 4 years ago...oh gawd! It's been that long?!?

Anyhoo, I was able to observe the process first hand and it is indeed very tough. As said in a previous post the applicant has to itemize in excruciating detail the exact steps in their process, spend months hammering out those details making sure that each step is both necessary and efficient and then submit their "plan" for review. Then there is an audit conducted and then you pray for a smooth approval. Then you get a yearly audit and if you did plan the process right in the first place, you should have no trouble maintaining process and documentation to support those audits, but here's the thing...ISO is not a quality assurance badge. Its a consistency assurance badge. Basically it means you do the same thing every time, which can mean the same kick-ass job or the same piss-ass job every time.

The loophole is that you just have to show in documented form that you are doing the same thing each time but when you do something that does not conform to your ISO certification, all you have to do is forget to write it down and no one is the wiser. Its a wishful thinking PR tool that relies HEAVILY on the Honor system and in my experience there isn't enough Honor in the manufacturing world to make me feel any better about an Alien made under the ISO banner than one made without it.

cam out.


kubi


Feb 9, 2006, 6:07 PM
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This REI move doesn't really mean much, except for PR. Basically everyone in the climbing biz already has UIAA certs since they can't sell in Europe without. By '08 CCH likely won't be around. So who's left that REI would even carry? All I can think of is perhaps Misty and Yates and they may have UIAA already.

This doesn't strike me as a PR move nearly as much as limiting REI's liability. I'm amazed that they'd allow their own tests to be performed on this equipment, I'd think they'd just be throwing themselves wide open for lawsuits doing stuff like that. As far as the PR angle goes, who's gonna know about this change other then the companies it affects and all the people on this thread? I highly doubt that most climbers will notice any change at all.


lemon_boy


Feb 10, 2006, 8:35 AM
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good thread.

the company that i previously worked for was ISO certified, building a product that could easily kill quite a few people if things went bad. my company was a complete joke. the ISO qualification and yearly audits are a complete yawn. you just have to say you have a plan. you don't have to follow one.

one thing that i notice is absent from this thread is the intense down-sizing of the climbing department at REI the last year or two. their climbing department has completely withered away. i was at the REI in boulder yesterday and they had 3 or 4 metolius cams and some BD's. I talked with a guy that worked there and he told me they were trying to get rid of approximately half of the department to make more room for "soft goods".

i've heard from several shop owners and they all say that the profit on hard goods (ie climbing gear) is much lower than the profit on soft good (ie clothes). this kind of explains why most gear shops have 15 models of soft shells and 1 or 2 models of cams. REI's new stance on climbing gear will probably make this easier to support.


healyje


Feb 10, 2006, 8:57 AM
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you just have to say you have a plan. you don't have to follow one.

Yes, there are some dubious ISO consultants/auditors out there and plenty of companies that only do ISO because of a gun to their head and never embrace the cultural changes and commitment it requires to do it right. We can hope at this point that CCH does embrace all that ISO offers with more than lip service.

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