Every tree climber is aware of the multiple hazards associated with climbing. There are the handsaw and chainsaw cuts, slips and falls, the possibility of branch and anchor point failure, the risk of electrocution, swinging and dropping loads, insect and animal attacks, or hazardous weather conditions, just to name a few. The good thing is we are aware of these hazards and are able to manage them. This allows us to minimise the risks involved in tree climbing.
Most companies have adopted the practice of doing regular aerial rescue training to ensure that their climbers are prepared for the event of an emergency. These companies’ internal training sessions almost always reflect the scenario that a climber needs to assist an injured climber to exit the tree. Many tree climbers have now adopted the use of access lines to minimise the time required to perform an aerial rescue. Different to accidents on the ground where it can be more appropriate to wait for the emergency services, injured tree climbers need to be evacuated from the tree canopy as soon as possible to prevent harm or death through suspension trauma (suspension syncope).
But what if a climber could perform a one handed self-rescue? This would save time and minimise the risk for others such as the rescue climber. Most climbers have already performed self-rescues without knowing it, or more correctly, without naming it. The last time you cut your finger with a handsaw and you descended out of the tree without assistance to get a band aid was a self-rescue. The important thing when thinking about self-rescue is to use climbing techniques that will allow you to evacuate out of the tree at any given time. It is even better if the self-rescue can be performed using one hand only. The one handed self-rescue is so important because injuries to hands and arms are very common. Using a climbing system that does not allow the climber to descend or ascend using only one hand can prevent a self-rescue or can increase the time needed to perform an assisted rescue. When using a climbing system that can be operated one handedly, it is most likely that the injured climber will be able to perform a self- rescue as long as he is conscious. Self-rescue techniques for tree climbers are as diverse as modern tree climbing. There are two minimum requirements that a climbing system should meet to allow for self-rescue.
- The climbing rope should be long enough to reach the ground from all work positions.
- The friction hitch system (mechanical or rope) should allow for one handed adjustment (descend or ascend).
Many climbers today comply with the OSH/DOL regulations to have two points of attachment when in any work position. The climber will be attached via his main climbing system and use a lanyard as a secondary attachment in the work position.
This system works well as long as the climber has his main anchor point above him. It is a different scenario when the climber needs to dismantle the standing stem while completing a removal. Here often the climber will use his climbing system as a second lanyard around the stem. The downside of this technique is if the climber has removed all branches his second tie in point will not allow him to descend to the ground easily. Some climbers cut notches for their main climbing system into the stem, but there have been numerous accidents with this technique.
The climber should use a secondary attachment that will allow for a quick and safe descend; this could be done by using an adjustable friction saver (e.g. rope-guide, pulley-saver or multi-saver). Another technique is to tie off the working end of the climbing rope around the stem using a running bowline. The climber can then descend on the running end of the rope using a mechanical descending device or the friction hitch system. In order to descend on a single rope with a friction hitch the climber will need to add a friction system like a Munter hitch or a Figure Eight below their friction hitch system. The additional friction from the friction device will prevent the friction hitch from binding up on a single rope. The climber can descend by grabbing the running end of the rope and the friction hitch at the same time with one hand.
Today more than ever before tree climbers have the option of using systems that will allow them to minimise the risk to everyone on the work site. Preforming an aerial rescue in an emergency situation is no simple task and involves many risks for the rescuer as well as for the injured. Many climbers could have been saved after an accident if self-rescue procedures were in place. Self-rescue techniques not only allow for self-rescue, but also support the rescue of an unconscious climber.
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