Prickly business

Got these pics off Pascal today of his recent trip to Argentine, where they visited, amongst other things, the Atacama desert.

Made me laugh…

You can just image…

There we were, happily strolling through the sunny Atacama desert, when what’cha know, we come across this invisible man wearing a treemagineers t-shirt – and very little else – , leaning against a sodding great big cactus.

Then he saw us and ran away, quick as the wind, the rascal!

Switch on the floodlights!

A tragic incident in British Columbia last week highlighted a lack of clarity regarding steel-core lanyards, an issue that has repeatedly been a topic of discussion and worry for us.

The climber was dismantling a tree, and was blocking down the stem, climbing with spikes and a steel-core lanyard, as demanded by BC regulations. The inquest is on-going, but what seems to be clear is that when he leaned back to push a block of wood off the stem, his lanyard failed, resulting in the climber falling and sustaining fatal injuries.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. Every fatality is one too many!

The suspected reason for the lanyard failing is that the steel-core failed at the base of the swage (see image below) due to continual bending over the sharp corner at the bottom edge of the sleeve of the swage and the resulting fraying. Obviously at this point in time this is all pretty speculative and before any conclusions can be drawn we need to wait for the the results of the investigation of the accident.

Yet the fact remains that a steel-core lanyard failed. Which brings us back to the false sense of security regarding the degree of protection that bombproof products offer: It is made from steel, it is bombproof, no way it can fail!

The truth of the matter is though that any material can be fail when stressed beyond a certain point. In the case of steel wire, constant bending over a tight radius can lead to failure.

So one possible conclusion might be that swaged terminations are less safe than spliced ones – yet I am not so sure. Swages are used in many and diverse applications with a perfectly good track record. I suspect it may rather be down to exactly how the termination is constructed.

The unease regarding steel-core lanyards that I mentioned above concerns a number of aspects in relation to this product, such as what the exact inspection criteria are, what are fail criteria, when does the lanyard need to be taken out of service? As far as I am aware this is not clearly defined anywhere. Is damage to the rope cover enough reason to fail it – or not, as the core is the load-bearing part? Does the part under the cover of the swage need to be inspected regularly – and if so, how? What is the life span… and so the list goes on.

So that is why I say let’s turn the floodlights on these grey areas and replace assumptions and it-has-always-been-done-like-this attitudes with a  well-structured approach based on clear comprehension and fact.

A further issue this incident highlighted to me is that of certification. I am aware that for some this seems to be a point of contention and I can just imagine someone reading this rolling his or her eyes, going Oh no, here we go again, the old treemagineers’ mantra of “certification, certification, certification”. Do they never stop? Hell, in fact: Petzl’s Zigzag is certified and look at all the trouble that has been having! I can think of a number of devices that are not certified that are being used with considerably less issues…

To that I say: this is not a question of either or.

Certification creates clarity.

Of course, when a manufacturer tries to incorporate a novel approach into a product to solve a problem or  uses innovative production techniques, this can result in problems – this is just one of the risks of manufacturing.

DMM introduced their Dragon Cams (see image above) into the sport climbing world a couple of years ago. This is an intensely competitive market, requiring manufacturers to really think outside of the box in order to gain sales of their product. In the case of the Dragon Cams this was achieved by hot-forging the cams, allowing for cams to be very strong and light at the same time. Not to mention that they look rather stunning. However, the design and manufacturing specifications really meant pushing the envelope and doing something no one had tried before. Shortly after the launch, a number of units developed cracks, leading to DMM issuing a recall of the concerned batches. The issue was subsequently analyzed and resolved.

So no, in and of itself, certification is not a guarantee against issues in manufacturing. But what it does ensure is a framework that picks up on these things, by means, for instance, of a quality control scheme: this is part of the submission to the notified body during the type certification process and defines how the manufacturer intends to guarantee consistent quality throughout the lifespan of the product. This ensures, for instance, that originally high-quality constituent materials cannot be switched for cheaper materials in order to reduce production costs. Obviously such a step has consequences for the strength and resilience of the device – and in a worst case scenario can lead to failure.

It is important for the strengths and weaknesses of PPE items to be thoroughly understood by all parties involved and for their technical specifications to be laid out in clear, transparent terms rather than shrouded in mystery.

How anybody can be opposed to this concept escapes me.

Surely, all stand to profit from it: the end user gains a greater sense of understanding and the information he or she requires to base decisions on, the manufacturer is able to make clear, concise statements regarding their device and the device gains further credibility having passed the defined hurdles demanded by the certification process.

So let’s turn those floodlights on!

Truth is stranger than fiction

You know how it goes, you have planned a big crane felling job: a tricky, badly damaged tree in a tight location requiring lots of planning – and today is the day… we have got all the permits required, have blocked off the road, the ground personnel on site, the tractor with the grab has just turned up to take away the material as we remove it – the only thing missing is the crane.

OK, so I am a bit nervous.

So much depends upon the crane operator – the company is fine, worked with them for years, but who is going to be on the machine today?

Ach, I say to myself, stop fretting, Mark, it is going to be fine, just relax and try to be cool for once!

Everything is going to be ok I tell myself, the crane is going to turn up, and, as always, the operator is going to be fine…

You could imagine some pretty bad combinations though, a clash between personalities and big machinery. How about the crane turned up – and you saw this…

Or this….

Ooooooor this..

Yikes! Better not!

Truth, as they say, can be stranger than fiction. Yet in this specific case, I have yet to encounter Crusty the Clown turn up in a Liebherr to the job site… so, fingers crossed!

State of Disarray

I sometimes think that my desk is a one on one reflection of the state that my brain is in.

Right now that would be: cluttered. There are those periods of hit and run, when I find myself coming back from one thing, dumping all the gear in the cellar and the office, and dashing off to the next… which results in this.

On the plus side it means that technically speaking I am telling the truth when someone phones me about something I had… misplaced in my mind, if one were less charitable one might say “forgotten”, and I tell them that they are on a note in my stack of to-do items – then this is true!

Well, I suppose it is really merely a question of which level they are at! Now where did a put that note…?!

Malibu Man

During work today, Pascal reminded me of Malibu Man. Hey! I had not thought of him in quite a while.

Malibu Man was a figure I created years ago portraying certain stereotypical traits of character of a tree grunt. Not in a nasty, finger-pointing way, but rather as a means of allowing us to reflect upon the fact that in certain situations all of us can display Malibu Man-type behavior. I reckon that Malibu Man is close mates with Don Blair’s Euc Man! They are probably drinking buddies and have epic bouts of arm wrestling!

Take, for instance, the “I hope Susi is watching this” image (see above).

Yes, of course, we talk about safety, but let’s face it, despite that those Rock’n’Roll moments happen regardless: working in exposed, public locations, performing spectacular climbing or rigging feats, people will stop and watch. This is the kind of situation in which the Susi factor can kick in…which, whilst not necessarily bad per se, is worth looking at a bit more closely.

Before delving any deeper into the Susi moments, I would like to introduce you to Schultz von Thun’s communication model. You are switched on people, so a lot of you probably know this already, it is standard stock of any sociology or management course, but very briefly, what Schultz von Thun basically did was to expand upon Paul Watzlawick’s five metacommunicative (that is easier to write than to say) axioms, which essentially boil down to the fact that from the moment on that we are born, we cannot not communicate and that every communication contains a factual and a relationship level.

Schultz von Thun proposed this head with four ears that hear and interpret each communication…

Pretty self-explanatory, really: The first ear considers who the person talking to me is – without yet establishing a link to myself (self-disclosure aspect), the second assesses how the person is talking to me, the quality of the relationship between us (relationship aspect). The third ear hears the content of what is being said (content aspect), and finally the fourth ear decides what the consequence, or the appeal, of the communication is.

When we go into Rock’n’Roll mode what is happening is that the second ear, the one that hears the relationship aspect, becomes disproportionately large…  Am I looking good?. In fact you can even get t-shirts that portray this kind of behavior, with the lumberjack guy sitting on top of the stump waving to some girls walking by. Huh. That is pure Susi stuff! And indicates to me that this phenomenon is wider spread than one might think…

So, essentially that is what Susi moments are, most of us have probably experienced this kind of situation, a fact that, as I said above, is not terrible in itself, as long as we are aware of the fact and how it changes our perception by creating a one-sided bias towards the relationship aspect – and may therefore have a negative impact on our awareness towards the occurrence of unexpected eventualities.

One thing is for sure, if I were operating in Susi mode all the time, I might want to re-consider my style. My policy in regards to all this tends to be to stay focussed on the task at hand and to limit the Susi moments to homeopathic doses.

Oh, by the way, here is one of Malibu Man’s idea of good rope care…

Yes, definitively room for improvement there.

Our conversation at work today got me thinking about how in my mind we had put that phase of tree care behind us, where we came up against folk like this. I do not mean to sound elitist, but I feel strongly that as a community within arboriculture climbers have so much to offer, so many people with so many skills, that it upsets me when people degrade themselves to knuckle-draggers. Surely it makes more sense to learn to express ourselves in a clear, coherent fashion, to take pride in what we do and to go to lengths to ensure that we do it well. That way we become a central part of a process, a voice within the industry that shall be heard.

But I realize that Malibu Man-tendencies will probably resurface again and again, depending upon geographical factors and groups of peers. Probably if someone comes along as a strong character within a group or a region, portraying this kind of behavior as acceptable then this will have a knock-on effect and encourage others to behave accordingly.

For this reason, I believe strongly that it is important for each of us to stick to our guns, to be diligent and display professionalism at all times. There is nothing wrong with getting things right and doing them well.