Jason Diehl wrote an interesting piece for Climbers’ Corner in this month’s Arborist News about assessing splices and stitched terminations. Whilst he gives some valid pointers as to what to look out for when deciding whether a termination is fit for purpose or not (Is the stitching protected? Is the stitching centered on the cordage? Is the stitching perpendicular to the line?), the un-written part of the article highlighted some uncomfortable questions we need to get a better handle on as an industry.

Take the two terminations below, superficially they are similar, …

… yet of course they differ in one important detail: one is labelled, the other is not.

Do not get me wrong, the aim of this post is not to promote one manufacturer over another, rather it is about transparency: the point being that as an end user in the example on the left I am being provided with important information via the label (manufacturer, year of manufacture, model, certification, standard, serial number), whilst on the right hand side, no such information is provided.

Now, of course I could say that I bought the eye to eye on the right from a company I trust, which has a good reputation and track record for safety. Yet, what if the person buying and the end user are not the same person? Or if I am checking gear for somebody else and am not sure of the provenance of this piece of kit?

Jason makes a fair point, there are indeed some things you can look out for, but the fact remains that traceability is out of the window – or at least much harder to establish – when products are not labelled with the relevant information. Also, the indicators he highlights are the points that are comparatively easy to spot. But there are other issues which are harder to assess, such as: How do I assess whether the stitch length is long enough? Whether the thread used is strong enough? Whether the tension on the thread is sufficient? Come to that: what is the breaking strain of the unmarked product? One would assume 5’000 lbs, maybe – but is this pulled eye to eye? Or in a basket configuration?

So many questions.

For these reasons I am not able or willing make a call on unmarked stitched terminations, because in all honesty, it would pretty much be a stab in the dark as I have not been provided with sufficient information to base a decision upon. Without a doubt, out there in the wild and whacky world of social media you will certainly find experts who will tell you that all is good, that is fine to use – which really puzzles me, as I cannot understand upon what they base this opinion (yes, because it is indeed no more than that: an opinion – not to be confused with a fact)? Maybe ESP?

Further, I would strongly encourage you to bear in mind that depending upon the function you are fulfilling at a given point in time, an opinion you offer or a call you make could well be construed as an expert opinion, with real-life, legal implications should something fail.

What about splices then, you ask?

Well, I am reasonably comfortable to make a call on splices which are made on industry-standard lines (sixteen strand and double braid construction) by using some of the pointers which Jason describes in his article, but anything beyond that? I would refer the question onwards to an expert. And/ or ask the climber to provide extra information.

Labelling is a very easy way to facilitate communication, to create traceability and clarity between the manufacturer of a piece of equipment and the end user. It is important to understand that in the absence of labelling a cautionary approach is a reasonable line to take. If in doubt, check back with the person who provided or sold it to you, if you are unable to qualify the properties of the termination further, do not rely upon the sole fact that it looks good, in such an instance I would strongly advise against using it.

After all, do you want to literally put your life on a line based upon a hunch?