Safety is important when doing ropes. Of course it is easy to get distracted. You might have a naked person dangling in front of you. There might be loud music and low light. It might be late at night and you may be short on sleep. You might have had a long day at work and now things are just getting rolling at night. The phrase used in the title above is attributed to some folks who go to Burning Man, but that is another story.
Often rope classes start with the safety lecture. This is when everyone really just wants to tie someone up, not hear an annoying talk about rope safety. These talks usually consist of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type of rules. Or at least I know several rope tops that categorically don’t follow the basic rules with any regularity. Nonetheless, these rules are still a good thing to keep in mind and even follow.
When introducing someone new to ropes, it is always a good idea to mention that there is a slight risk of injury or death. Naturally most people and especially those with trust issues are particularly reluctant to let another person gain control of their well being. To put things in perspective I usually remind them that when they are on a two lane road with oncoming traffic at a combined speed of over 100mph, they are trusting complete strangers with their life – over and over again – and rarely give it a thought.. But I digress.
Every activity we engage in has some risk associated with it. We become accustomed to taking on the risks from familiar activities. We experience the most fear from the ones we are rarely engage in. My own experience is that ropes can be a safe activity. I am always checking in with my partner. When intervention is required, even in a suspension, often simply supporting the person by lifting them can relieve pain or panic.
Every once and a while though something happens that reinforces the need for careful thought throughout a rope scene. With suspension, many lines are involved and there are subtle things that can go awry. A simple example of this is when you use the very basic and safe method of coiling back around support lines to secure a rope. It is easy to untie and can be tied (wrapped) under load. But if the lines you choose to wrap around can possibly move independently, such as when the lines are part of a zigzagging support arrangement, the movement of the lines can splay out the coils – making them ineffective.
Complacency is an issue. I have tied some rigs so often that I can get out of the habit of really looking at the lines once they are tied. So if something has slipped it might go unnoticed. Familiarity can be dangerous – the first times you do a rig, you are very conscious of the everything you do.
Changing conditions, such as different body types or certain clothing can also create surprises. Rigs that depend on certain hip geometries can slip when you tie a person with a different build. Recently at an event I did an inverted suspension of a woman with narrow hips who was wearing synthetic fishnet leggings. These two elements combined in such a way that the ropes slipped a little bit. I was alert to it as it happened, but because I had never had a problem with this rig it is possible that my attention could have been elsewhere. This was a question of degrees, and the risk was low, but….
The one thought that I want to end with is that you must use your eyes to constantly check your rigging and also check in with the bottom. Don’t let your focus be diverted away from what is happening with the lines. Also the fewer assumptions you make about anchor points and your gear the better. Anchor points that have been used many times can suddenly fail. Make a point of knowing how any anchor point is attached and critically evaluate if you are comfortable using it, regardless of what others may have done with it before.