Taking responsibility

One of the key points I was trying to establish got lost in the turbulences of the one-handed use of chainsaw kerfuffle the other week.

Contrary to what some seem to think, I am actually not interested in dictating to people what they should or should not do, as I am convinced that a change of behaviour which is not based upon understanding and an inner conviction will in all likelihood be short-lived. I do however feel strongly about that when making statements in public one should be aware of the signal one is broadcasting and the responsibility one has towards others.

What do I mean by that?

In the late nineties, when I was new to the the competition scene, all enthusiastic and bubbly about the opportunities opening up before my eyes, a person I looked up to at that point in time used to tell me how the the top climbers are not always tied in whilst climbing. X and Y, both prominent competition climbers whom I had a lot of admiration for, he said, regularly disconnected in the tree whilst repositioning.

So guess what?

As this correlated with what I was seeing from others, and according to this person the top people were also doing so, I accepted it as a given: it is ok to detach from your climbing system in the tree, so long as you feel fairly secure.

This is obviously not the case.

Today, in my daily climbing I do not come across situations where the only practicable solution is to detach from my climbing system, there will always be a viable secured alternative. This is partly due to a greatly expanded range of techniques and equipment, but more importantly linked to a change in my attitude and the way I approach a climbing challenge. From the point I leave the ground until the moment I finish the climb, I will remain tied in.

Consequently, when speaking in public, this is the message I will be transporting.

Think of the cool teacher whom all the kids look up to, smoking in the schoolyard . What effect do you reckon this will have on the youngsters’ opinion of smoking? You have to be very experienced and sure of your own position to be able to withstand the pull the behaviour of an authority figure you respect and admire has on you.

So there you go. It is important we take these responsibilities into account and to be as unambiguous as possible. This we owe to the next generation of climbers.

A bit of everything

In the past I have written about aspects of the arborist industry which I like or appreciate a number of times. Today, for a change, I thought I would write about a phenomenon I find annoying.

Why is it that some arborists seem to believe that merely because they use ropes to work in trees this makes them proficient in all disciplines where work is performed on rope? Ok, superficially there may be some similarities – such as using rope, for instance. Yet beyond that the similarities grow thin – due to these other activities requiring a totally different skill set, training, techniques or tools. In all probability, the risks associated with them also are very different from the risks you might encounter during tree work.

What I am saying is that applying arborist logic to working on roofs, facades or in steep terrain may work, but one may also unknowingly be exposing oneself to considerable risks.

Over the years I have come across numerous incidents and accidents which resulted from this kind of mixing of disciplines, which I always find upsetting as it always strikes me that they could have been quite easily prevented.

In most countries, by law an employer is required to provide an employee with sufficient and appropriate training and equipment to ensure a safe workplace. Also by law, a person using PPE is required to ensure that the techniques and tools they are using are suited to the task at hand. Sometimes this can be tricky even in areas of core competence – how do people expect to address these issues in areas they are ignorant of – or only understand the bare essentials of?

Put it this way, I am often less than impressed when I see tree work performed by persons from other areas, so why should I do the same onto others?


Quite apart from anything else there is the question of the quality of service you provide to your client. I believe that if we all define and stick to our core competences, the quality of the product we are able to deliver improves. This does not exclude expansion into other areas, on the contrary. This can be achieved by training the relevant techniques and acquiring the knowledge necessary to perform an activity in a safe and correct fashion, but this requires an investment both in time, money and effort – or alternatively by working with other companies who have the necessary expert knowledge. I always enjoy projects involving professionals from different areas as they are alway a window into other areas of expertise, which is interesting and stimulating, brain food.

So there you go. In many ways I feel it is preferable rather than give in to the temptation to do a bit of everything – yet ultimately end up doing nothing very well, to define you area of core competence and to strive to excel in this area.

Chemical People

Weird job on Monday… pruning trees back from overhead tram power lines. The trees were on the site of a chemical company. A few days after the last time we were there one of the buildings blew up, so we went there with slight sense of apprehension this time round.

What can I say? What a mess. Barrels of… stuff everywhere you looked, the whole place feeling generally rund-down, tired and icky. The safety briefing we received in the morning did not do much to reassure me.

In the pic below is a door sealed after the accident… well, ok, not technically sealed, but it is the thought that counts, methinks. And yes, I am wearing my safety glasses, thank you very much.

Sometimes you really just do not want to know… what do you mean, poison?


Well, liquid nitrogen, actually, or one of the  condensators of the factory, to be precise. I felt like an extra auditioning for Lord of the Rings or something like that!

This made me laugh: a caterer on the site advertising their food as being seasonal, regional and sustainable – and pictured were… a strawberry, a shrimp and Sushi. Errr, right. Like, totally sustainable. I sometimes wonder whether people see the irony using imagery like this? I suspect not.

Anyway, I was glad when we finished the job. The place was smelly and unpleasant, a bit like what you might get when crossing Mordor with Albert Hoffmann. I also caught myself wondering what some of these compounds might do to my climbing line?! Eeek! Put it this way, I kept my line close to me and in my bag!

Yeah right, become an arborist, they said, and be in touch with nature in beautiful surroundings, they said.

Sometimes more than others. Monday must have been “others”.


Recommended reads #4

I have written in the past a number of times about how I feel it is important to support interesting projects within our industry. And also about how if everybody contributes their skills, it makes the bigger picture all the more interesting.

Paul Poynter of the Wooden Hand has offered up such  contribution in form of a beautifully and lovingly crafted book on the splicing of double braid ropes. What makes this book different from other technical guides available on the market, is that it reflects Paul’s philosophy and slightly different angle when approaching this topic. The book is a pleasure to look at, to touch and to read: It is bound in linen, printed on a heavy-weight paper, hand-lettered and richly illustrated with Paul’s line drawings.

If you are interested in double braid splicing, or would simply like to extend your library with a slightly different book, this is certainly one worth considering. You can get hold of it by contacting Paul directly.

It’s all in the timing

One of the people who joined us during our treemagineers meeting this week was Elliot Tanner, a very talented designer, who is in not small part responsible for the look and function of the tools whose development we have been involved with.

We had a very interesting discussion regarding the timing of locking mechanisms on karabiners, which I thought I had an understanding of – it turned out this was not so. I love learning and understanding things better, it feels a bit like peeling back layers, gaining deeper understanding with each layer you remove. This is especially true of complex issues – and designing and manufacturing PPE without a doubt is complex.

Pic: Rob Fisher

What is crucial for safe and correct use of a connector is a functioning locking mechanism. This relies upon a number of factors.

Auto-locking gates, such as the one on the Locksafe Ultra O pictured above, rely upon two springs in the barrel, a torsion and a compression spring, to rotate the barrel through the movement and to push the gate closed. I was under the – wrong – impression that when someone talks about a timing issue on a gate preventing it from closing correctly, that this is linked to one of these springs being faulty. This is not so.

Timing refers to a purely mechanical process, somewhat analogous to a computer script, which sketches  a pathway that the locking mechanism follows from closed to open state. This relies upon very specific surfaces and contact areas which interact with each other during the movement.

In the case of the barrel of the Ultra O pictured above left, the barrel butts up against the lower hinge rivet. This limits the distance of rotation. Once the barrel has been rotated into this position, the gate can swing open. During this swinging motion, a tab on the lower part of the barrel prevents the barrel being able to inadvertently turn back into the lock position (pic above, right), due to the way it interacts with the flat surface area below the rivet. This is important, as otherwise, if the locking mechanism did swing back towards the closed position with the barrel already in the locked position, it would prevent the karabiner from closing and locking correctly, remaining in an open position.

The interaction between the nose and the gate is also part of the timing mechanism.

You will have noticed on the Durolocks that there is a very long spike-shaped tab on the lower part of the barrel. This also has to do with timing.

Because the purple barrel is relatively far out from the gate, this point has to be long, so as to remain in contact with the flat plane below the hinge rivet to ensure correct timing and again, to not rotate around in the depressed position.

Over-rumbling (the process where all sharp edges are removed from the karabiner bodies by rumbling them in a tub of ceramic elements) can cause surfaces to become too rounded and cause timing issues. For this reason, some manufacturers choose to machine these surfaces to ensure a clearly defined area of contact and correct timing.

Wow. Heady stuff.

It certainly makes me look at the Durolock gates, a highly complex locking mechanism with a barrel within a barrel,  in a new light. In fact, it makes me look at all locking mechanisms in a new light. So often we take things for granted, never considering the time, ingenuity and effort invested to ensure consistently reliable function.



Development, soul and depth

The 2016 treemagineers annual gathering in the Black Forest is already drawing towards its end.

Once again, it has been an intense week with lots of discussion, load of ideas bouncing around and projects taking big steps forwards. As I tried to describe before, this project is about pursuing ideas and developing concepts with friends. As such, a central motivator is that it shall be interesting and fun – days like the past week reaffirm this.

Another point it highlights is that there are a number of rich veins of concepts still unexplored that could potentially lead to some very interesting equipment. Yes, geek confession, but this is very exciting.

We were discussing yesterday how this is a very elaborate way of moving projects forwards and of doing product development. Yet in many ways it corresponds to our philosophy.

When planning an event, take vertical connect, for example, you evolve a concept, get together a group of people you are going to run it with, create a program and organise a venue. So far, so technical. However, where things get interesting is on the day that people start turning up for the event. They may arrive as strangers, but once there, you can observe how they (hopefully) start to enter into interaction with others, getting to know each other, chatting, laughing and discussing. This is the moment when it feels to me as though an event gains a soul – and depth.

You could apply a similar logic to project development:

You could view it through a purely mechanistic lens, review what is out there and what you are going to copy or tweak, slapping together a couple of pieces of stock hardware and making it a bit pretty (or not). Reminds me of the quip what IBM stands for? Inadequate But Marketable. To this day, and I should know better, I am amazed by what creates a buzz in the way of very superficial styling features or slight tweaks of an existing design. But hey…

This is not the route we tend to choose. We tend to try to gain a deeper understanding of what we are trying to achieve, to then identify the best way to do so. This process can be slow and somewhat gothic at times – and leaves you with stacks of prototypes, –  yet like with the example of the event above, the time, thought and effort invested are what give the final end product a sense of depth and soul.

What have we been discussing? Ahhh, now that would be telling. Stay tuned!

Exciting times…



A votre santé!

Last week, Bernard-the-smith, our rather lovely valaisan neighbour in the yard invited everyone round to his smithy for drinks and roasted chestnuts, which was nice.

While there, I spotted this rather unusual bottle opener…

What the…?

When quizzed, Bernard explained that it was in fact an ice screw he used when he went ice climbing as a young man. Eeek! Talk about  a wee bit sketchy!

It reminded of Philip Stölzl’s 2008 film Nordwand, which describes the dramatic events surrounding the first ascent of the Eiger north face in 1936, won by the two young Bavarian climbers Toni Kurz from Berchtesgaden and Andreas Hinterstoißer from Bad Reichenhall, to then be instrumentalised by the Nazis as a propaganda coup. One of my favourite scenes in the film is where the two young lads go down to the forge the evening before their first attempt to make up a couple more karabiners.

As one does.

Imagine, the evening before the next day’s big rigging job: Yeah, love, be back in a bit, just hammering together a couple of Impact Blocks … humpf * dink (sound of hammer striking metal).

I think it is safe those days were solidly pre-ISO 9001!

Still, it worked.

Yet it was not only pre-quality assurance, but also of course this was before the whole manufacturing of PPE became a mass market. Once you are no longer making tens of units, but rather hundreds of thousands, it becomes a numbers game that something will go wrong, in this instance you need quality assurance. Not only that, if one of the design parameters you are operating to is optimised use of material, putting just the right amount in just the right places and removing it in others, you have to get it right. And part of getting it right, as I mentioned just before, is a quality assurance scheme. Not only for initial type certification, but for the whole life span of a product, i.e. the time it is on the market.

In that respect I think Bernard’s ice screw is being put to a good use today.

How DO you qualify efficiency and productivity?

I got wondering about the question above after the recent post on the pitfalls of focusing narrowly on efficiency and productivity only.

Actually, how do we qualify what constitutes efficiency and productivity?

I suspect they may be different things to different people, there is a degree of subjectivity. But not only that, they may also differ depending upon the situation.

Different things to different people? How so?

For some, you have not done a good days work unless you are totally wrecked by the end of it. This school of thought has people going flat out, pushing themselves as hard as they can, physically and mentally. Let’s call this a physical barometer to measure efficiency and productivity.

For others, you measure your degree of efficiency and productivity in money. So much in our society revolves around the stuff, it is not a big step to use money as the sole indicator as to whether you are doing an efficient, productive –  and consequently – good job.  This would be a monetary barometer to assess efficiency and productivity.

For yet others again, efficiency and productivity is gauged in the response they get from people around them. Here the focus lies very much upon how team mates/ the client/ passers by respond to their actions. Great job, mate! Based upon Schulz von Thun’s extended communication model, I would refer to this one as a relationship aspect barometer to measure efficiency and productivity.

And so it goes on. Where does the truth lie? As in all matters subjective probably somewhere in between. Or it contains elements of all the above: we draw from many sources to assess whether an action is efficient and productive.

What is it for me? My view of efficiency and productivity is that there shall be a sense of flow to it. I tend to challenge myself when I am climbing on a large rigging operation for instance, to be in position, with the piece attached and the saw ready to go by the time the ground crew have finished clearing the last piece to one side. When I am running the ropes on the ground, I challenge myself to have the site tidy and as much material as possible processed and cleared by the time the climber reaches the ground. When I am able to run a job like this it feels as though I have dialled in the correct speed, the rhythm feels right and the job flows almost on its own. This will not always be possible, some jobs flow more than others, but it is worth striving for.

And lastly, depending upon the situation, different approaches may be required and the emphasis may differ. In a busy street situation, being efficient and productive may entail moving the largest volume of material out of the site as fast as possible. In a tight backyard situation on the other hand, being efficient and productive may angle more around avoiding targets and balancing not causing damage against a time factor.

And that is really the clincher: Productivity and efficiency shall be weighed up against safety. We are constantly balancing one against the other. You could choose a way of doing the job that is as safe as can be, but totally lacking in regards to productivity and efficiency – and also way beyond that anything your client can afford. Or you might only consider productivity and efficiency, cutting corners in regards to safety, putting yourself and your crew at risk.

The balance we are trying to strike is a dynamic one, it is constantly evolving and may even shift during the day should an outside parameter change, e.g. rush-hour traffic, end of the school day, temperature or weather, to name but a few.

The aim is to put in place a risk assessment process that takes all the factors above into account and communicates them to every member of the crew, allowing you to make the right choices in regards to personell on site and techniques and equipment used, striking a good balance between efficiency, productivity and safety.

CaaaARGHpe Diem!

I like to think of myself as having things together, moving through life in a fairly coordinated and coherent fashion. Until reality bites back and makes me realise I am not – or not always at least.

I like a brew. Nothing like a cup of tea to reflect upon a situation or to wind down.

I also like printed mugs, as they make me laugh.

Bring the two points above together and you get reflection and humour.

So during the last session of boring office work I spotted a mug with Carpe this fucking Diem printed on it (as one does)s, which I thought seemed wholly appropriate, so I ordered it. It arrived in once piece, which is by no means a given and I was well chuffed.

The next day I took it to work, thinking I would leave it at the yard. I put it in my backpack and remember thinking, Mark, is this really a clever move? Isn’t that just asking for trouble? You know are going to pull something out of the pack in a hurry, the mug is going to pop out and fall to the ground. To which I probably answered myself: C’mon, what is the worst that can happen, after all, I’m not a complete idiot, this is what fine motor skills are for! D’uh!

I went to work, was on the job site, just finished working on a cracking lime tree, walked over to the car to get out my wallet to go and drink some coffee, when something pops out and falls to the ground with a rather ominous chink. What?! Nooo. Yes, it was the mug going AWOL. A true egg on face moment, talk about a foreseeable error! Carpe fucking diem indeed – in fact: Hakuna Ma-fucking-tata!

The mug and its handle had parted ways. I suppose in a sense I was lucky the whole thing didn’t simply smash on the pavement.

I then decided as part of my penance I would not bin it, but rather fix it. So I used Sugru to make a handle. Sugru is fantastic stuff, admittedly comes at a price, but certainly does the job, I can certainly recommend it. And if it means we throw a bit less stuff away, it has to be good.

Gotta go now, kettle’s just boiled!

Productivity-think pitfalls

We have a helicopter felling coming up next week. This got me thinking about a situation I came across a couple of years ago…

I was doing some training for a helicopter company, the idea being to assist their climbers to enter trees in a safer, more efficient fashion, as up until then it had been pretty freestyle. Their work process consisted of the guys going in the day or the morning before, attaching long slings to the limbs, marking the cuts, so that when the helo came in – they were using a big Super Puma –, the ground crew attached the slings to the longline, the climber then making the cut.

It was a challenging session, for a number of reasons.

On the positive side, the crew was very tight-knit and committed. They were also very serious about what they were doing and wanted to do it do it well. The flip side was that they were falling prey to operational blindness, a kind of groupthink in which competent operators all doing the same thing constantly reaffirm each other (“The others are doing the same, so it is probably ok”), this can lead to competent people making bad decisions. One such instance was when they explained to me that a major risk they face is stems barber-chairing, splitting length-wise, when the helo lifts them off, as they take large pieces and there is considerable tension on the slings. When I asked them how they mitigate this risk, they explained that they always make the final cut with one hand on the lanyard adjuster (this is using large saws!), so that in an emergency if the stem should split, they could extend the lanyard.

I think at this point my jaw dropped.

Oh, but it’s ok, they said, we always saw at head height so that the piece passes above us as it is lifted away.

That’s fine then, I mean, what can possibly go wrong?! As I recollect, I then lost my cool a bit and explained that I thought what they were describing sounded wholly inappropriate and actually really quite dangerous. Later that day we did a practical sessions out on some trees. We did the whole spiel of discussing various work positioning options, means of attachment and climbing techniques… but once we actually got climbing, it became apparent that they were all free climbing the trees in order to place an anchor point, to then start climbing with a rope. And these were not small trees, mind you.


What can I say? I put a stop to that and started discussing with the lads why you would do something like that on a daily basis. They were at first a bit nonplussed, then sheepish. It turned out that individually they had all convinced themselves that if they accessed the tree in a secured fashion it would take too long and would therefore be inefficient. Collectively they had come to accept free climbing the tree as an acceptable procedure. I asked whether this was something that had come down from management, whether a lack of efficiency and productivity had been identified, but this was not so. It was purely in their own perception of themselves that there was a lack of efficiency.

Part of the issue was that obviously when the helo is on site you want to be operating as smoothly as possible as this is a highly competitive market and any delay is going to take a chunk out of your profit. This in can create a dynamic where all else becomes secondary to the primary objectives, which are to be fast, productive and efficient. This is a slippery slope, a form of target fixation, where all other considerations consequently fall by the wayside: seen through this lens, climbing totally unsecured or sawing at head height in a potential barber chair situation can come to seem like reasonable propositions.

Obviously an operation needs to be financially viable, there is not question about that – but not at any price. As this example illustrates, options need to be carefully assessed and discussed rather than simply rushing in, with actions based on a gut-feeling at an individual level, as this can lead to blinkered tunnel vision.

By the end of session, the guys were all talking, bouncing options around and discussing implementation, the atmosphere was lively, bubbly and dynamic. I thought this was fantastic, as it showed so clearly that once you start communicating, by pooling your competencies and solutions with those of your crew mates, together you may discover all sorts of solutions for situations where before there seemed to be only one.

So let’s get talking. Being efficient and productive is one objective, but should not be allowed to become the only consideration when defining your work procedures.