Rope rescue & harnesses

Published:  01 January, 2006

Rope rescue presents special challenges, especially in remote areas or at some unique industrial sites, reports Kenneth N. Laidlaw, one of the USA’s top experts in the field.

With new equipment constantly appearing on the market and techniques continuously being refined, this craft can be a very dynamic experience. Rescue professionals need to consider which harness, from a variety offered, will best meet their individual needs.
The tasks being performed while in a harness will determine which harness type you want to consider. Generally, there are three styles of harnesses that are probably used in rope rescue. Each deserves some discussion and examples are mentioned so the reader may research their specifications. For each style there is a reference to a product from both a European and an American manufacturer. These are not endorsements but reference points for the three styles discussed.
Looking at harnesses:
A common style of harness used in rope rescue is probably going to be worn by a person with a rock climbing or climbing wall background. It has a waist belt that is worn above the hip bones and is usually fastened with a buckle. It has leg loops that fit around the thighs. A sewn double loop joins the leg loops and the waist belt and serves as the attachment point.
This attachment point is at the waist line and often above the navel. It will probably keep the user upright and will not allow the user to invert. This might be a disadvantage.
Another disadvantage of this style of harness is the tendency of the user to have the waist belt too tight and as one hangs in it there is a compression of the body’s organs and an increased upward pressure from them on the diaphragm making it difficult to take a deep breath.
Generally this would not be an issue as the primary design of these harnesses is to be used by a lead climber probably accessing a patient. Two examples of this style of harness are the Petzl Mercury C31 and the Wild Country Helix. A second style of harness, probably worn by a litter attendant, may have some other requirements.
The attendant must have a wide range of movement to guide the litter and meet the needs of the patient. As an attendant initially approaches a patient it might be advisable to stop above the subject and invert to assess the mental condition before coming within the patient’s reach.
Other considerations:
Cave explorers also often require inverting. Their harnesses traditionally have a much lower attachment point. The harness consists again of thigh loops and another larger loop around the pelvic girdle which has two small end loops that are joined using a semi-circular steel screw link. This screw link becomes the attachment point.
Two examples of this style of harness are the Petzl Super Avanti harness C12 and the Pigeon Mountain Industries’ Viper Caving harness. Both of these harnesses work well with the frog climbing system and give the user the ability to rotate in any direction. A disadvantage is that the user could invert when not expecting to. Another advantage is compactness and reasonable cost.
The last style of harness is a full body type that is most commonly found in an industrial setting where work positioning is the primary focus. Generally these harnesses have leg loops. The waist belt tightens down from each side across the pelvis taking pressure off the abdomen. The attachment point is often a square steel link positioned below the navel. Shoulder straps complete the full body style.
There will be dorsal D ring to meet United States OSHA requirements and a sternum area D ring allowed internationally. Two examples of this style of harness are the Petzl Navaho Complete C71 and the Yates Ropeworks Rope Access Harness. Both can have a Petzl Croll attached to use for a frog climbing system. A disadvantage of these harnesses is probably cost and weight.
These are some of the options available and each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Practical advice for rescuers:
Practice with your harness and be able to put it on in less than five minutes. Start with the thigh loops pretty snug. Hang in it for periods of time. If a waist belt is present, is it pressing in on your soft body parts?
When you keep moving your legs around, you keep the blood flowing. Try picking an unconscious person off of a rope. If you do not have that skill, consider rigging the working ropes from a tied-off descending device. Then, in case of an emergency a less skilled person could loosen the rope in the device, and lower the injured party to the ground
Work restraint systems and their travel restrictions are not a focus of this discussion. However, we need to consider what will happen if a person falls using either of the first two above described harnesses.
This can be a very serious medical situation and the hanging person needs to be removed quickly but in consideration of the pooling complications.
To understand the seriousness of this topic the reader should consult a document entitled ‘Harness Suspension’ prepared by Paul Seddon in 2002. It can be found on the internet at crr02451.pdf.

  • Operation Florian

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