Poor suspension line tie-offs

Posted on Tue, 9 July 2013

There appear to be quite a few incidents due to failures of suspension line tie offs. We had a minor one on a course I was running where a student failed to tie off and merely used frictions. Luckily, no harm was done apart from a bruised ego and severely 'bent ear' from me. We have even heard of a couple involving pros recently.

If it can happen to them, it can happen to any rigger. It is simply not good enough to leave unsecured bights, except possibly with some bowline derivatives, and use quick release tie offs without plenty of back up, e.g. a couple of hitches and double tying your quick release or a damn good friction. If they can come undone, they will!

I saw a very close call at one of the London festivals, where a model came within an inch of hitting the deck head first and was only prevented from doing so by an end knot jamming in the bight. I hate to say it but this will be the cause of a very serious accident before long. It's a numbers game. More and more new people are trying suspension and there seems to be a lot of competition. This is driving them to work outside their ability. In most things, confidence rises faster than ability. I have heard it said that a motorcyclist is likely to have more accidents in the first 5 years than the next 50. I take the figures with a pinch of salt but there is some basis of truth. There's a big difference in riding a bike at speed and being experienced enough to deal with it if things go wrong. You also develop a 6th sense and all round awareness. Same with rigging. You need to be keeping an eye on your model, ensuring things aren't coming undone, checking the wrap positions, wrist tie tightness, that your candles aren't setting anything on fire, you aren't tripping over your ropes or going to crack her head on anything, a million other things to take your eye off the ball. Home, public and performance situations all bring their own special distractions. When the proverbial does hit the fan, you need to be ready to act instantly by reflex and not panic. This is where practice and experience come into their own. This is exactly why emergency drills are practised, so personnel are trained to act instinctively when the chips are down.

If a main line fails during an inversion, there's a high chance of paralysis or death. Of course, there are legal implications, the end of your rigging career and a whole load more grief. It really isn't worth chancing to save a few seconds! Instructors and well-qualified riggers, watch out for this. Keep an eye out for each other and the beginners.

I have made a short tutorial to illustrate some tie-offs that I would be happy to use and also how how easily some can come undone. However, don't take this as a 'how to do suspension'. This is a subject that should be ideally learned hands-on with a well-qualified instructor. There are far too much ill-informed techniques and bad habits being passed on as the blind lead the blind. I think most people, if they were learning mountaineering, would want a qualified instructor before risking their lives. I think if you are risking other peoples lives you owe it to them be even more careful; what you do with your life is up to you.