Joe Harris commented on a post I wrote a while back on influence, how information is disseminated and what relevance we give it. I thought the points he made were too important not to share here as a follow-up to the original post…

On a recent workshop series, with a planned 208 attendees, we actually saw only 206. Two of the climbers who’d booked to come along had experienced career-ending injuries (luckily neither were killed) between booking and the date of the event. As you would know, arborists are not prone to booking well in advance, so we’re talking about a period of only a month or so. 

In addition, in the last few months, two other climbers that I know of have had career-ending injuries.

All four accidents were associated with complex SRT setups, new devices used in non-manufacturer approved configurations, working from basal anchors, or similar “new-fangled” and YouTube-promoted tree work methods. All four accidents would not have occurred with simple, “old-school” methods*. 

I never used to think that equipment was a major factor in most incidents. It’s usually shortcuts, laziness and sloppy decision making. But in recent years there has been an increase in injuries and deaths due to equipment misconfiguration, misuse, and misunderstanding. The rise of SRT for work positioning means that devices experience more load, ropes are under more tension, there is less margin of error, loads on high-points and redirects are misunderstood, and people are learning from YouTube influencers as you say in your post. 

We’ve had 6 fatalities in arboriculture so far this year in Australia. The highest per-capita fatality rate of any industry in Australia, for the 6th year running. Think somewhere we’re going wrong with the whole way we’re going about this work. 

Good post Mark. Take care,
Joe Harris

* 2 x climber cut anchor line on basal anchor, 1 x device prevented from engaging due to too-tight chest harness, 1 x device opened too far, operator gripped on and went to ground.

Made my day

You remember that gorilla suit I mentioned the other day? Well, it certainly seems to be getting around. Tom and the lads from Top Rope, friends of ours who do rope access work here in Switzerland had a contract to fit climbing holds into the chimp and orang utan enclosure in the Basel zoo, so lending them the suit seemed like a no-brainer.

Fun fact: the hardest thing about climbing in the bloody thing is actually that you get the hair jammed in your friction hitch and descenders. Well, and the fact that you can hardly see, let alone breathe under the mask.

Anyway, be that as it may, the results made me laugh snot, but see for yourself…

Well played, lads, well played πŸ˜‚


Isn’t it funny how things sometimes seem to occur in clusters, such as blunders and bad luck, for instance.

A couple of weeks ago I pulled up in my vehicle to a meeting and managed to clip the curb in an absent-minded fashion. Brilliant! Closer inspection revealed that I had managed to remove a chunk of rubber out of the tire. So the next morning I took the vehicle to the mechanic who changed both front tires.

The following day I was up a tree doing a removal when I noticed considerable abrasion damage to the Platinum line on the rear side of my access systems. Argh! That line was new in May!!! The damage is recent and looks like rope running on rope – and I have absolutely no idea when or how it occurred. Very, very annoying. And yes, it is in the middle of the line in case you were wondering.

So, I remove the line from service and ordered a new one.

Later that day I was cross-cutting the stem of one of the black pines we had just felled. Whilst moving from one cut to the next, with the saw switched off and the hand brake on, I lost my balance in the tangle of branches and managed to impale the knee of my chainsaw trousers on the bucking spikes of the saw I was using. It was the first day of use they had seen…

Was I irritated? Somewhat. What the hell was going on?!

Finally, the next day I was out and about looking at work – aaaaaand of course ended up with a parking ticket…


Β‘Basta ya!

It would appear that sometimes I can be quite high maintenance. Having said that, my spate of bad luck and destruction seems to have passed. And I mended the trousers, paid the fine and replaced the line. Worse things happen at sea.


Sexism is such a pervasive, virulent issue in so many walks of life – needless to say that arboriculture is not spared. The other day a friend of ours called someone for posting video footage on the social media page of a group soi-disant professionals for running a chainsaw aloft without so much as a shred of PPE.

He fired right back at her, mansplaining that she would probably do better to let the guys do the tree work whilst she went to do yoga with her girl friends. To which her response was…

The explanation being that doing yoga in chainsaw PPE makes as much sense as running chainsaws without it.

Ha! TouchΓ©! Sometimes anger may be an appropriate response, but other times humour can be highly effective to really ram a point home – with a vengeance.

Nice one, Vane 😊

vertical-connect 2019

As I write this, the 2019 edition of vertical-connect 2019 is once again history.

Another event full of interesting meetings, lasting impressions and insights to mull over. The topics this year where Human Factor and Moving Loads. The former highlighted how central the human factor is to all of our actions, with various speakers examining different facets of the topic: from the fallacy of believing that our brain always feeds us reliable, objective information, sociological dynamics, to the possibility of using virtual reality to train operators to cope with hazardous environments or theatre scenes discussing communication and its pitfalls.

Thursday evening was the traditional vertical-connect party in the Sherlock Pub in Meiringen. Fun fact: Meiringen is where Sherlock Holmes allegedly fell down the waterfall with Professor Moriarty. Which hopefully taught them a lesson about mucking around steep drops without any PPE. I am happy to report that the gorilla suit was not forgotten this time round. This goes back to a presentation I did years ago about subjective mental blind spots, where one of the studies I referenced was Chris Chabris and Dan Simons’ Invisible Gorilla experiment. Don’t worry about the details, but long story short, they initially did the experiment with a pink umbrella but then decided to repeat it with the gorilla suit they had kicking around the psychology facility. And I was like… huh, what, everyone has a gorilla suit handy? Except me?!! Since then, that situation has be remedied:

Which is all fine and good, but resulted in a somewhat subdued start to the second day, where we were discussing the moving of loads in different industries and applications. A broad range of situations were considered such as using crane hooks as PPE anchor points, Richard Delaney reflected upon the interface between the use of PPE and rigging equipment, the Geneva high-angle rescue group did a hands-on demo of their procedural considerations when the mass being rigged is a casualty.

I cannot recommend this event enough, it is certainly one of my annual high-lights, I get to spend a week in beautiful alpine scenery with friends and like-minded folk, consider yourself warmly invited (did I mention we offer simultaneous translation between German, French and English), the dates for next year are 27 and 28 August 2020.

Inspecting the rope bridge on a treeMOTION

Below is a video discussing the inspection of the rope bridge on one of the treeMOTION harnesses, as well as identifying fail criteria. The process of filming this was interesting, as it makes you work through the obvious and objective criteria, but also to take a closer look at the more diffuse touchy-feely factors in play when building towards that confidence moment which enables you to make a call on whether a bridge shall be removed from service or not.

Once again, a thank you goes out to Vito for his work on filming and editing this.

For more information, see links below…

treeMOTION rope bridge:

tM rope bridge – replacement part .pdf:

tM USCA and S.light UI .pdf booklet:

Neighbouring component compatibility

Neighbouring component compatibility is something we have spoken about a lot over the years, meaning that one does not only consider whether the components are well configured and compatible, but also giving thought to whether the neighbouring components work well together.

Thinking of this and flicking through my photo library, a number of examples occurred to me where this was obviously not the case.

Without further ado, I give you…

Steel cables, winches and Hitch Climber pulleys? Never a good combination. Or any pulley you intend to use with synthetic lines again… quarantined this one during gear inspection during a climbig course.

Wrong shape carabiner connected into a pulley: This is what happens when you snatch the whole top of a tree onto a Pinto pulley attached with a modified d-shape connector, causing an inequal load on the two sides of the Pinto… not to mention the overload.

This is not really neighbouring components, but also not a good idea: long-term exposure of aluminium to salt water causing corrosion. This connector was left in sea water for a long time, admittedly, but the delamitation caused by the corrosion is very interesting, so I thought it was worth sharing. This is a phenomenon you will sometimes see on buckles and other metal components used in hot and humid environments…

And one final example, going out on a bang, so to say: do not set-up your pool on your balcony. A large, inflatable, water-filled structure combined with a large, rather flimsy wooden structure = baaaaad compatibility of neighbouring components… QED.

Thoughts on influence

We go through our lives leaving traces, we affect people around us – as we are also affected by them. We have an effect on our environment, our home, our work environment or our group of peers we surround ourselves with. Likewise we are also influenced by exterior factors, people, peers and environment which in turn will have an effect on how we perceive the world around us, as well as shaping our individual opinions and views.

This natural state of affairs is a far cry from one of the phenomenons brought forth by social media platforms, which is the social media influencer. Such influencers are touted as being the next generation of brand ambassadors that can help a brand to become more famous and increase consumption in society through social media. They are online personalities with a large number of followers, across one or several social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, or personal blogs. What makes these influencers so successful appears to be their capacity to engage with users and develop a level of trust. Their influence consists in the fact that their ideas and their behaviour will not only be positively evaluated by their followers, but also imitated…

Naturally, the world of arboriculture does not exist in a vacuum, and is consequently also effected by such trends observed in a broader societal context. There are a large number of people out there uploading content which is shaping people’s views and attitudes. Some of them are obviously acting as brand ambassadors in the sense that they are promoting specific products, whilst others are promoting their own personal brand. Oftentimes the distinction between the two can become blurred. This is also true of some printed publications targeting the arb community, where the distinction between paid content, i.e. advertising, opinion and fact is very hard to recognise.

One of the issues I have with this trend is what foundation the opinions offered by said influencers have, what are their actual credentials? For all I know I may be dealing with a highly knowledgeable person, with broad-based skill set founded in experience as well a theoretical knowledge – but conversely, it might be someone with a mediocre skill-set, but with a willingness to invest time and effort to package it nicely and to put a positive spin on it to create a illusion of competence. In a virtual setting it can be very hard to distinguish between the two. This reminds me of a paper written by Antje Schrupp, a German social and political scientist, titled Female Authority – or How to Oppose Power. In this, she offers an interesting take on authority, which she defines as a quality of relationship. She postulates that authority has to be negotiated between two individuals, and further that can authority only be granted, it cannot be demanded, as this would be exerting power over the other person.

With this in mind, I might chose to grant a person authority in one specific area, based upon our interactions, whilst they in turn might grant me authority in another, the kicker being though that this can only happen based upon one on one, real-life interaction. If such an interaction does not happen and a person is granted authority, according to Schrupp, this does not make the person being offered the authority an authority, but rather a guru. I believe, due to the inherently indirect nature of interactions on social media platforms, this is exactly what is happening: these high-profile individuals are being placed upon a guru pedestal, where critical questioning or criticism becomes inconceivable due to their guru status.

If you add undisclosed commercial interests and a narrow foundation in regards to experience and competence, this can potentially have a highly adverse, if not even detrimental effect on the opinions in a group of peers or, in a larger context and if the clamouring becomes loud enough, on an entire industry.

Do not get me wrong, I do not want to blow this out of proportion, but I wish we could all just calm down a bit, not start hyperventilating about every new bit of kit or apparently revolutionary new technique that comes along, but engage in meaningful and measured discussion about the potential benefits as well as down-sides of the equipment or technique being considered. After all, in many ways it is not the influencers which are at fault here, but rather the way in which we interact with them, the credibility and weight their opinions garner – when hits and likes become a quasi-currency: “Six thousand likes can’t be wrong, this must be true!”

Having said all that, as I am writing this, I find myself questioning myself. A lot of what I have written might be construed to be applicable to the presenting I do or of treemagineers as a whole. However, to that I would respond that we have always gone to great lengths to communicate in an open and honest fashion, being transparent as to where commercial interests may lie, to disclose affiliations and to distinguish between the type of information being offered: is this representing one of the companies we are affiliated with, is it fact based upon credible evidence or is it opinion? Are we always successful in doing so? Probably not. Do we always strive for maximum possible transparency? Yes, we do.

I for one have very little interest in being a guru, as I believe that kind of position to be boring and limiting, after all, a guru cannot admit that he or she does not know something – as supposedly they know it all already. Further, I have no interest in influencing a person and impose my views on them: on the contrary, I value critical feedback and questions, as in this way I also continue to gain a deeper understanding of the issues being discussed. So rather than influencing people, offering handily packaged, pre-confectioned, byte-sized, apparent solutions, I would hope to be able to offer them mental (and physical) tools to be able to develop problem-solving solutions themselves. This strikes me as being more sustainable approach, which takes into account better the diversity of situations and personalities out there.

Ask the right question

Fifteen years ago, ascent was something you simply did, you either body-thrusted or footlocked, not something that garnered much air time in terms of discussion or controversy.

Today we inhabit a very different world (I realise I have written about this before, bear with me), I cannot help but be puzzled by how tree care has such a high degree of diversity when it comes to ascent configurations – when other industries limit themselves to a handful of standardised techniques. This plethora of tools, combinations and techniques is something that intrigues me, the reasons for which certainly merit further discussion.

One reason would seem to me to be that as an industry we have so far not managed to find a consensus on what boxes a well designed and configured ascent system shall tick. Oh, plenty of opinion and pet techniques out there, but not really anything more in-depth than that. So, are we maybe not asking the right questions? Or getting lost in granular details? Or succumbing the fascination of the newest, shiniest and bestest tool out there?

Let me give you an example:

How exactly do we configure our access lines? A single line over a limb, choked with an Alpine Butterly knot? A single line with a base anchor? Double isolated lines? Lowerable or not? Or no access line at all, because the whole crew climbs SRT?

My take on this is that dedicated access line makes sense. It facilitates access and egress into and out of the canopy and is available in case of an emergency. I also believe that having the working part of the line configured with two isolated lines is good practice. There are a number of reasons for this…

When using a EN12841 (Personal fall protection equipment β€” Rope access systems β€” Rope adjustment devices) Type B ascender, such as Petzl’s Ascension or the like, it pays to consider the dynamic request the standard makes of the component:

So, in other words, as far as the standard is concerned, after the line has been exposed to a 100cm fall of a 100kg mass it is still a pass if the mantle is sheared, on the condition that the slippage is not greater than 200cm. The rationale behind the standard allowing for severing of the mantle is of course simply a means to dissipate peak force. The damage of one rope in a industrial rope access context is less problematic, as the assumption is that the climber will be running a permanent back-up line with a back-up device running on it, allowing a transfer off the damaged line and a descent on the back-up line.

Is a fall generating this kind of force likely? In case of anchor point slippage, adjustment or failure, yes.

And remember, this is always assuming good compatibility between the ascender and the line. In case of a misconfiguration, such as an ascender which should be used in conjunction with an EN1891 semi-static line being used on a fully-static HMPE/ Dyneema line, things can rapidly become dramatic. Not only will the HMPE generate higher peak forces due to its low elongation, but it is also very slippery, which makes increased slippage in case of a severed mantle more likely – in a worst case scenario leading to ground contact.

Switch to arborist ascent techniques… one single line? In case of damage to the mantle as consequence of anchor point slippage, adjustment or failure, you might conceivably find yourself suspended off a heavily compromised line. Far from ideal.

You do not used toothed ascenders, you say, but some form of ascender/ descender? That makes a lot of sense, as it allows for fast egress, but not necessarily a reason to drop the second line: in case of incapacitation of the climber, a second isolated line makes for a very easy rescue, the rescuer can simply scoot up the second line and lower the themselves and the incapacitated climber on both lines or transfer the incapacitated climber onto their system and descend on one line – always assuming that the anchor point is not damaged and adequately dimensioned to bear the weight of two climbers.

Anyway, plenty to discuss here: Let’s dig for the right questions before we start acting upon haphazard answers to imprecise or narrowly focused questions.

treeMOTION set-up and more

During Sherrill Tree’s Arborfest in Asheville earlier this year, Ludo and I spent some time putting together a couple of videos discussing various aspects of the treeMOTION: set-up, rationale behind the double bridge, the extra expense and more…

I was not grumpy, Ludo just had me looking into the very bright sun, that is why I was so squinty, not my most photogenic face, I realise, apologies. I also had to smile about the intro sequence – I look like one of those cardboard cut-outs of some teen pop idol… Robbie Williams or David Hasselhoff πŸ˜‚

A big thank you goes out to Ludo for making this happen. There will be more such background videos to follow. Stay tuned.