Arborist Climbing harness
After spending the week learning SPRAT specific techniques, we took a test. The test required going through a series of maneuvers, such as making a long traverse, switching ropes, rescuing a victim and more. If at any point at all during the test we were only tied in to one rope we would fail the test and have to reschedule another test. The consequences of being tied in only once were severe and quite expensive to say the least and it was pounded into our heads to always be tied in twice! This is quite a shift from the tree climbing competitions where being tied in once is the norm and if you disconnect completely it is a disqualification. The safety margin of these two judged events are dramatically different.
I loved the class and with much concentration I ended up passing the Level 1 SPRAT training. When I returned home and started into the tree, I suddenly felt very exposed and uncomfortable doing something that had been so natural for me all the years climbing on a single line. I asked myself, what are the reasons that we as Arborists only climb on a single line and I went back to the truck and got another rope and Rope Wrench and went to work on that tree staying tied in twice.
One of the things that struck me in the SPRAT class was being told that in the industrial Rope Access world, there have been very few fatalities. Statistically almost none. This is in stark contrast to the tree industry where we talk about fatalities on an almost weekly basis. That is unacceptable. Looking at the statistics, many of these fatalities are caused by falling out of the tree for one reason or another. This is often the result of either cutting one’s rope, or not being tied in at all, or it can be from tree and anchor point failure. Looking back on my career I have made many mistakes. I have found myself high in a tree completely unsecured due to negligence or laziness and I have also cut my rope both with a chainsaw and handsaw. Luckily I am still here to talk about it.
Just last week, a climber in Ann Arbor, trained by some of the best, neglected his saddle for too long and was also not aware of a recall of that particular bridge. These are the types of accidents that are non existent in the rope access world where there is redundancy incorporated into every life and death decision.
So, over the past two years, I have experimented with real double rope climbing for tree work and have learned many things about the process. One of the things to point out is that it is already a safety requirement for tree workers to be tied in twice while using a chainsaw and highly recommended while using a handsaw. The Ansi standard reads: "6.3.7 Arborists shall be tied in and use a second means of being secured (i.e., work positioning lanyard or second climbing line) when operating a chain saw in a tree."
I will be the first to admit that for much of my climbing career, I have taken this as a good suggestion but i have been known to cheat especially when out on a limb where lanyarding in is pointless and also for the sake of speeding up production. I have made many cuts with just one point of attachment.
When I started regularly climbing with two lines, I assumed that the going would be almost impossible and slow and tedious. But I committed myself to try it for a while. I committed to the experiment of using two ropes, two tie in points, and two anchor points at all times while aloft.
At the beginning, the going was very slow, I realized that several things would have to change in my setup to make it work. With one bridge on my harness, my ropes would quickly become tangled and impossible to coordinate.
Then I began using two separate bridges and two swivels. When I installed two Rock Exotica swivels on my harness, I read the instructions and right at the top were explicit instructions “NEVER trust your life to a single tool, must always use a backup” i looked at their carabiners and they say the same thing. Very good, sensible advice, if you think about it.
The swivels and two bridges opened up a lot of movements that were off limits before, such as 180 degree turns. Using only one bridge, I was limited to one line being on the left and the other on the right. The swivels and two bridges allow each system to be passed over the body and orient themselves correctly.