Helmet standards

Helmet standards can be somewhat confusing.

National regulations for tree work may define a standard for helmets and can vary from country to country, some requiring helmets complying with the industrial standard (EN 397), others with the mountaineering standard (EN12492) – and some being non-specific.

Here is a helpful summary of the different helmet standards and examples for applications by Lyon Equipment:

Which standard is applicable for tree work is debatable.

There are a number of differences between the standards. The obvious ones being electrical insulation or molten metal splash conformance, but an interesting one is the way in which the chin strap and buckle release.

EN 397 (Industrial safety helmets) makes the following requirements of the buckle:

When tested in accordance with 6.9, the artificial jaw shall be released at a force of no less than 150 N and no more than 250 N, due to failure only of the anchorage(s).

So this means that the buckle shall retain the helmet on the head when a force of no less than 15 and no more than 25kg is applied.

As opposed to this, EN 12492 (Helmets for mountaineers) makes a different requirement of the buckle. In the testing procedure described under 5.7.3 of this standard the strap and buckle shall retain the helmet when a force of 50kg is applied for two minutes.

The idea behind this high-strength buckle is that it retains the helmet on the head of a climber in the eventuality of multiple impacts during a fall, rather than protecting from one hit, as with EN 397.

There are arguments for both… obviously a force applied to the head exceeding 50kg is likely to do substantial damage to the neck – that, and the helmet being ripped off the head by the initial impact is also reducing the peak force. This could be an argument for helmets conforming to EN 397  with its lower retention requirements, as mentioned above, between 15 and 25kg.

On the other hand, considering a fall or an uncontrolled pendular swing through the busy, cluttered structure of a tree canopy does raise the question whether there is an argument for a higher strength buckle in view of the risk of multiple impacts this type of scenario could entail.

Once again, this all just goes to show how, as soon as you start digging a bit deeper into standards, things get a bit more complicated than merely choosing between industrial vs. sport. Rather it is getting to grips with and gaining an understanding of the parameters described in the testing procedures and then, based upon that, deciding which standard best describes the intended use and therefore ticks the Fit for Purpose box.

Cutting corners

When weighing up whether to do a job properly or to cut corners whilst maximising profit seems to be a dilemma of our times. You might think. Or not, as this story illustrates…

My grandparents lived in Hastings. Well, moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia after the big storm in ’88 – to move back after one Canadian winter – but that is a another story, to all intents and purposes they lived in Hastings on the south east coast of England. I have many fond childhood memories of the place: the old town, the sea front and beaches, the cliffs, all quite magical, as childhood memories so often are.

When you return as an adult you have that moment of brutal disenchantment, especially when considering Hastings. The place is… struggling. And far from magical. And just never quite as hip as Brighton, despite superficial similarities.

One of the reasons for this dates back to bad decisions back in Victorian times.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the matter (I know I should stop referring to Wikipedia, just an easy option –and it is not as though this were being peer reviewed):

The Hastings Line is a secondary railway line in Kent and East Sussex, England, linking Hastings with the main town of Tunbridge Wells, and from there into London via Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. The railway was constructed in the early 1850s across the difficult terrain of the High Weald. Supervision of the construction of the line was lax, enabling contractors to take short cuts in the construction of the tunnels. These deficiencies showed up after the line had opened.

Rectifications led to a restricted loading gauge along the line, requiring the use of dedicated rolling stock. Served by steam locomotives from opening until the late 1950s, passenger services were then taken over by a fleet of diesel-electric multiple units built to the line’s loading gauge. Freight was handled by diesel locomotives, also built to fit the loading gauge. The diesel-electric multiple units served on the line until 1986, when the line was electrified and the affected tunnels were singled.

Robertsbridge station looking in the direction of Hastings, 1954

So essentially the decision by a Victorian contractor to cut corners on the amount and quality of brick used to construct the tunnels on the line led to situation that persists until today, which is that rolling stock is restricted and therefore commute times are slow, unlike the forty minute run from Brighton up to Clapham Junction, which is one of the reasons that Hastings became a backwater.

Why am I rattling on about all of this?

Well, the obvious parallel to draw is that it is very rarely wise to cut corners with an eye on short-term profit, this is equally true of railway tunnels as it is when selecting Personal Protective Equipment, such as climbing gear. A bad decision in both instances may well return to haunt you at a later point in time.

In view of all this it makes sense to go that extra mile, to do your due diligence and to ensure that you have taken all necessary measures and are in possession of all tools necessary to enable you to do the job properly.

And what is the morale of this story? I am actually not overly keen on morales, but I suppose what this would say to me is: Do not mess up important decisions.


I could easily go without seeing the inside of a plane for the next couple of months — and not miss it one bit. Pretty much done for the year, good to have some time at home to look forward to.

And then onwards into 2015!

Which I know I will also be looking forwards to when the time comes.

Thoughts on innovation

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
― Shunryu Suzuki

One of the exciting things about working with people starting out with climbing, or when explaining concepts or ideas, is to recognize the essence, the core, of what you are trying to convey. This, I suppose, is what distinguishes good teaching from the mediocre. Definitively I find that in doing so I reflect what and how I am instructing – as I have said before, this is after all work at height we are talking about here and the risks this entails shall not be taken lightly. Or, to put it differently, teaching brings great responsibility with it.

In this respect, the relationship between teacher/ instructor and student is a challenge in both directions. It forces me to step away from my “expert” view, which experience may have narrowed down to techniques that have proved themselves to be functional and efficient – yet the beginner’s view may introduce a different angle I had not considered before and by doing so helps me to open my mind, as Shunryu Suzuki would say.

One of the things I find is that there is a certain expectation to teach “new stuff”.

This demand will often as not come from climbers who already have a certain level of knowledge. This can put you, as an instructor, under considerable pressure. However, over the years I have learnt to stick to my guns. Frequently when you start scratching the surface you will find that underneath it the understanding for basic techniques and concepts is quite shallow, incomplete or sometimes even completely missing. Some things bear repeating.

I love watching Rip Tompkins talking about different ways of creating Prusik lifts, because… well, Rip is Rip and a very gifted presenter/ instructor. But also I learnt a lot from watching those Arbor Master presentations, the way they condense out key words and will then drive them home with a vengeance and not be shy to really elaborate on a concept that is superficially quite “simple”, but when you look at it more closely can be discussed to considerable lengths.

So what is this pressure to show the newest, best and most innovative?

Come to that, what exactly do we mean, when we talk about something being innovative?

Wikipedia has the following to say on the topic:

Innovation is a new idea, device or process. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs. […] The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.

Over the years, in our small tree climbing world, we have seen our share of inventions and innovations.

Looking back, for me clear inventions were the ring saver concept that Francois Dusenne came up with and Peter Styrnol and Knut Foppe first sold via High Tree Tech, or New England Rope’s Safety Blue HiVee, the first 16-strand arborist climbing line with a load-bearing cover. These were quantum leaps forwards and created a climate in which innovation occurred that changed the way in which we work and access trees profoundly.

Innovations on the other hand are the way in which for instance industry-specific rope constructions have evolved, from the classic 16-strand constructions through to the double braid construction used in many climbing lines today, the use of high-modulus fibres or the way in which terminations have evolved, from splices to stitchings or hybrid solutions, such as Teufelberger’s SLAICE termination.

Innovation can occur in two ways:

  1. Evolutionary innovations (continuous or dynamic evolutionary innovation) that are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes and
  2. revolutionary innovations (also called discontinuous innovations) which are often disruptive and new.

A good example for this was the way in which harnesses were being developed in the 1990’s. The market was really divided up between a couple of manufacturers, once a basic design had been established there was not much need to move forwards and no one was really attempting to think outside of the box, development had become incremental. This did not change much until Beddes came up with the treeMOTION concept, mid noughties, which incorporated a number of novel concepts, such as the complex front hardware linking upper and lower webbing elements and reducing pressure points by sharing the load amongst multiple levels of webbing.

These were definitively discontinuous innovations and led to a very different kind of harness to what had gone before. But obviously, having a good idea is one thing, actually bringing it to market is an entirely different cup of tea and takes a considerable amount of time and effort.

This is what Business Dictionary has to say on innovation:

Innovation is synonymous with risk-taking and organizations that create revolutionary products or technologies take on the greatest risk because they create new markets. Imitators take less risk because they will start with an innovator’s product and take a more effective approach.

A more effective approach in regards to price may well mean out-sourcing production to countries where labour costs are low, e.g. China or Vietnam. Is this what we want as an industry? I would like to think not, but the jury is still out on that one…

Over the years we have seen quite a few products that innovative manufacturers brought to the market being imitated and duplicated by competitors. This is a pity, as the burden of the (financial) risk is distributed unevenly, with the innovator carrying the majority  of the burden and the duplicator raking in the profit – without the initial financial risk. I am over-simplifying? Certainly, but none the less this is a trend you can observe when looking around booths of dealers at industry trade shows and events.

In the end it is important to remember that we do not innovate for innovation’s sake.

As John Hattie says, when we innovate, we step away from well-trodden, structured paths and become more aware of what works – and what does not. An innovation does not per se have to be new, rather it occurs when a person performs a conscious action to introduce a different, but not necessarily new method or strategy that differs from what is currently used. Again, to paraphrase Hattie, the point is not to be innovative, but rather to learn what makes the difference.

Sometimes this may be a full-on, all singing-all dancing, space age, technological solution – and other times it may be as simple as re-discovering/ remembering an old-school technique, such as the three-knot system or the pull-back technique.

Let us not become blinkered by a compulsive urge to innovate, let us reflect critically upon what is actually gained from a said innovation, to embrace true innovation when and where it occurs – but at the same time not to throw tried and tested techniques over board in a careless fashion.

Sorry, that ended up a bit more wordy than I originally intended.

Time for a picture…. have a unicorn, just to dumb this all down a bit.



… and one more

And one final one.

Love this one, as it captures for me the essence of tree climbing, the interaction with these fascinating beings, of different perspectives, of being at height.

After all these years, standing back I still marvel at the privilege of working in such a special environment.

A couple of old drawings…

Looking back through some old drawings, I stumbled across these… did these for Friedrich Drayer’s catalogue back in 2003! Makes me feel rather old – not that I am too worried about that.

Love this one… the poise of the climber, the log jutting out of the picture, just somehow works. And it also is a situation that is very familiar, as this would be a typical sort of surroundings to be working in here in Basel.

And then this one, uses for the Petzl Minitraxion. Coffee machine up the tree? You cannot argue against that! Scan is not fantastic quality, sorry about that. Notice the Bart Simpson mug…

This one also makes me smile, in reality of course, it is not quite so humorous, but still… been there, done that, in the days before lowering devices, as you really thought twice about taking wraps around the trunk, especially if it was covered in a climbing rose or the like.

Dry land water skiing, we used to call it.

time for a capstan!

Droning on

After another event, the New Zealand tree climbing competition, I was struck by how the longer the more we take people filming with drones for granted.

In Rotorua, the person flying the drone had it flying around and above the crowd during the Footlock event seemingly pretty indiscriminately. Same at the European TCC in Swierklaniec in August, at times there were three to four drones flying. One thing that strikes me is how indignant these folk get when you challenge them and say that you would prefer them to steer clear of people – after all, these devices can be quite sizable.

It is interesting to see how legislators are struggling to keep abreast with these developments, not surprisingly, really, in view of the break-neck pace at which the developments are evolving. In Switzerland, for example, drones shall not be flown above or closer than 100 meters to a larger assembly of people or a crowd.

This is in considerable contrast to what we are seeing at events… drones all over the place.

Ultimately this is further example of the many ways in which technology poses formidable challenges regarding privacy, civil liberties and safety. I do not intend to sound like a Luddite here – I would be the first to admit to being fascinated by these technological advances – , but it will be very interesting to see how as a society we rise to these challenges.

Religion is the opium of the people, according to Marx.

Today one might have to replace religion by iGadgets… sorry, Karl, but that is just the way it is looking from here.

Back from NZ

Got home from New Zealand on Monday after a length series of flights and a couple of missed connections. Still waiting for the bags to arrive. Ahh, the joys of travel. Still, pretty in credible if you think about the way we are able to travel half way around the planet at the drop of a hat – in contrast to the time and effort travel took just a couple of decades back.

I would like to thank all who contributed towards this trip, Jelte and Menno from Omni Tree, Rossy from Proclimb, Matt Palmer from Advanced Tree Services, and others… never a good idea to list people, as you are always forgetting some. Still, I greatly enjoyed meeting and interacting with all of you. Looking forwards to doing this again…

I have to confess to just love spending time with tree people. There a red thread running through that group, often as not, they are people who do not quite fit in other places and have found a niche here in arboriculture… of course that is a generalisation, but still, there is more than merely a grain of truth to it.

Lots of impressions and thoughts to work through from this one, the trip was very varied with different activities, the workshops in Auckland and Christchurch, the WorkSafe NZ meeting, the NZ Arb conference and workshop, the climbing competition – and from every one I take something away, an insight, a question or new perspective.

Lubricating karabiner locking mechanisms

Another insight from gear check at the NZ TCC yesterday – well, nothing really new – but maybe just a reminder.

Karabiner locking mechanism can get dirty and jammed up. In this case the manufacturers recommend cleaning them with water and soap, blowing them out with compressed air – often this will already be enough to unjam a mechanism – and then to lubricate them.

There are a number of options for lubrication. One such option is graphite powder.

However, because graphite powder is… a powder, if a locking mechanism of a karabiner is packed with it, this can have the contrary effect and totally jam up the rotating action of the barrel, which is obviously not the desired effect. I came across a couple such karabiners yesterday, when you turn the barrel, you can almost feel the resistance of the crusted up powder.

This is a pity, as whilst the intent is good, it does not produce the desired effect. It is therefore preferable to use a light synthetic oil to lubricate those locking mechanisms, such as Duck Oil, Ballistol or WD40.

This one always makes me smile… WD40, Duck Tape – further I would add zip ties to the list –, sometimes I feel as if that is what holds my life together!