Aerial Rescue scenario @ ETCC 2016

When arborists meet other professionals who work at height, discussions regarding anchor points will often ensue.

On the one side are professionals who are obliged to work off work positioning systems with a permanent back-up. Also, their anchor points are rated and certified – or at least go through a thorough, formalized process before they are cleared for use.

On the other side are arborists, who, for very valid reasons, do not use a permanently backed-up work positioning system. Also, they get to chose their own anchor points.

Says the arborist: But we are cool, we rely on our training, experience and competence to assess our anchor points and can therefore rest assured that all is well.

I have to disagree with this assessment.

Anchor point incidents, failures and near-failures are too ubiquitous in our industry for this to be true. In my opinion this is a classic example of risky shift, a phenomenon which describes how operators, who left to their own devices would make sound decisions, in a group can have the opposite effect on each other: I see you are using a very low diameter anchor point, therefore it is also ok for me to to do likewise. And vice versa… ach, don’t get me going on anchor points, this could go on for hours otherwise.

I was going to talk about the AR scenario at ETCC this year, so let’s carry on there…

For the reasons outlined above I believe it is a good idea to focus on the topic of anchor point selection and failure whenever the possibility arises at industry events. For instance when considering Aerial Rescue scenarios for tree climbing competitions. Phil Kelly came up with an interesting one for ITCC in San Antonio in March, which involved a secondary anchor point failure during work on a stationary line. For ETCC we chose a primary anchor point failure – or delamination, to more specific.

We installed the event in a double stem Maple into which we added a delaminated Larch limb (see above). This was bent by almost 90° and was leaning against the other stem, with the dummy anchored to it. The scenario described a situation in which the climber had overlooked damage at the base of the stem he anchored to, this resulted in the failure of the limb and a pendular swing. He took a blow to the head against the other stem, managed to install his lanyard and is now suspended, semi-coherent. The access was installed round the back of the tree and was not affected by any of this.

Gabriel Dovier was head judge for this event and the discussion with him and his team during set up was highly interesting. The delaminated limb was sizable and weighed a good 100kg (we did a very thorough job of securing it with multiple back ups). What would the correct way to proceed be in such a case? The climber was not unconscious, so it is not a crash rescue. Further, the first priority of rescue protocols is to avoid injury to the rescuer, so in this instance, an unsecured mass suspended aloft above the casualty, the first step has to be to secure the limb.

Having said that, during the de-brief session with the climbers after the event, a very valid point was raised which was the risk that moving across to secure the other side of the limb might potentially dislodge the delaminated part and that it might therefore be preferable to proceed straight to the casualty.

Food for thought indeed. I am clear in my mind that, based on the considerations above, first and foremost I would want to ensure my and the casualty’s safety and would therefore secure the limb.

Either way, such scenarios achieve exactly what we are aiming for with such events, which is to foster critical and wide-ranging discussion around these topics. The solutions put forth may well just be a snapshot of that point in time and can evolve in years to come – but the key point is that we build awareness and start talking.