What does this mean for industry compliance and HSE inspections?
The use of a ‘reasonably practicable’ judgement is still applicable when using a moving rope system, although HSE inspectors would expect the norm to be that two points of attachment are used ‘for most of the time’.
However, Stationary Rope Technique (SRT), whether used for direct access into the tree or as a work positioning technique (SRWPT), will be defined as ‘rope access’ and thus be subject to the higher requirement for compliance, i.e. that using a single line would only be acceptable if using two lines introduced a higher risk:
‘the system may comprise a single rope where:-
A risk assessment has demonstrated that the use of a second line would entail higher risk to persons; and Appropriate measures have been taken to ensure safety.’
(WaHR 2005, Schedule 5, Part 3)
Therefore it is expected that, where climbing is chosen as the most appropriate way of carrying out the work, climbing arborists will be attached to two separate and independently anchored lines for most of the time.
For example, when ascending the tree from the ground, the operator should be attached by their main line plus a backup line, either a complete second line system or an adjustable lanyard or strop. This could be achieved by body thrusting and changeovers, or a throwline to establish high anchors, and footlock, SRT or body thrust to ascend, with the backup line following.
HSE has confirmed that when body thrusting and using multiple changeovers in the ascent, it is acceptable to have only one point of attachment between disconnecting and reconnecting the second line to a higher anchor.
Once the main anchor is achieved, a backup line should be installed (if not already installed from ascent), attached to a separate anchor. The main and backup lines could be a doubled (moving) rope system or a stationary rope system. In reality, it will be unusual to have a tree offering two equally strong and well positioned anchors but the principle must be that the backup line will protect you should the main anchor, or line, fail or be cut, or be inadvertently disconnected.
Once moving around the tree and achieving work positions, the two lines will remain attached for most of the time – there may be occasions where it is not reasonably practicable to do so, but it should none-the-less be the norm that there are two, separate and independently anchored lines. Once again these may consist of a doubled (moving) rope system or a stationary rope system; A correctly configured adjustable lanyard or strop can be used as one means of attachment during change overs and at the point of work.
During descent, the same applies: the main line can be your main descent line with a separate backup line.
The HSE has consistently argued that, despite the good practice guidance that we have been working with for the last 15 years, the number of accidents in our sector remains unacceptably high – indeed, it states that the arboricultural sector has the highest accident rate per capita of all UK industries. Clearly this is something we would all wish to change.
In 2018, HSE analysed RIDDOR reports for the period April 2017–March 2018 by searching for key words. Although heavily caveated as not being a comprehensive record, the findings were published in an open paper (AFAG 33/02) which was presented at the November 2018 AFAG meeting. According to the analysis, there were 117 recorded RIDDOR-reportable incidents in arboriculture during that period. Of these, 23 were falls from height, of which one was fatal, 6 resulted in fractured vertebrae, 3 multiple fractures, 5 lower limb fractures and fracture to ankle, ribs and wrist.
There is no doubt that accidents do occur, some of which result in fatal or life-changing injuries. Each one fundamentally affects not only the individual but also their family and friends, not to mention their business.
As the lead body for the sector it is our responsibility to do all we can to prevent such accidents.