Posted on: 01/18/18

Unconscious and Hanging: Tower Rescue Techniques Part 2 – Cut-Away Rescue

This is Part 2 in a series considering various methods used to rescue an inaccessible casualty hanging on their fall arrest lanyards on a tower. It specifically draws from techniques commonly used in the telecoms industry but raises issues of relevance to workers or technicians in a range of environments.

“…he was reluctantly willing to continue with the exercise, throwing in the odd expletive to express his disdain for such outrageous practices…”

Cut-away rescues on towers can be a divisive subject. While for some they remain a go-to method of rescue which has been used for years, for others the idea of cutting through a rope provokes horror or confusion. I recall an amusing incident involving an IRATA Level 3 rope access supervisor who was hanging about 6 metres off the floor, acting as casualty for a cut-away rescue exercise. Our unfortunate Level 3 was surrounded by spectators who probably had more than 150 years rope rescue experience between them. However, this was the first time he’d seen this technique…

“STOP! EVERYONE JUST STOP… YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”

He’d seen the rescuer calmly clip a steel “pick off strop” onto his harness, attaching rescuer and casualty together, then unwrap some shears which would, in the next couple of seconds, cut through the rope he was hanging on. Our normally cool, calm Level 3 friend was, let us say, fairly upset that someone would want to cut through his rope, much to the amusement of the crowd of onlookers. Once everything was explained to him, he was reluctantly willing to continue with the exercise, throwing in the odd expletive to express his disdain for such outrageous practices.

To be fair to our unfortunate exercise casualty, he was presented with a technique he’d not come across before. In his world of rope access there are usually subtle differences in equipment available and suitable anchor points for rescue kit. Cutting ropes is engineered out. So we’ll go easy on him!

Equipment

But what are we looking at here? What kind of kit is involved in a cut-away?

A standard rescue kit for this kind of situation will normally involve the following

Rope (good start…!)

Sling and karabiner to create an anchor point

Descender (Commonly an ID, Anthron, D4, Powerlock etc)

Pear shaped screwlink (Maillon)

Pick-off strop (preferably metal)

Rescuer attachment karabiner (in this case the red karabiner fastens onto the rescuer)

Pick-off karabiner to go on casualty

Shears/ safety cutters (knives are not a good choice)

What’s the process (briefly)?

Rescuer descends to casualty

Rescuer attaches casualty to the rescue system with the pick-off strop

Where possible rescuer secures any spare/slack casualty lanyards onto the rescue system as a back up.

Rescuer cuts through the casualties lanyard, causing the casualties weight to hang on the rescue strop/system (specifically, the rescuer will probably be cutting through the webbing on the casualties energy absorber).

Rescuer descends with the casualty.

Advantages

– Minimal equipment is needed (no additional pulleys, rope, poles, large rescue devices etc.)

– Relatively cheap in comparison to most other systems

– The rescue kit can be used for various different rescues and is not limited to one particular application (can also be used to lower people, self-evacuate etc).

– Easy to remember how to use shears/ cutters

– Generally only 2 main points to remember which are different to general abseil/ rope access training: 1) Attach to casualty. 2) Cut what casualty was originally hanging on.

– Rescuer can control the casualties’ line of descent, avoid obstacles, administer limited first aid etc.

Disadvantages

-Possibility of rescuer cutting the wrong thing- Rope, harness, face, hands…! Often the rescuer is observed to swing their hands around in shock/ to balance themselves as the casualty’s lanyard is cut and they sometimes swing under the rescuer. There is a fairly moderate to high chance of the rescue rope being cut at this point.

-Two people hanging on one rope. While there is a low possibility of shockloading to the system we’ve still got a relatively large amount of weight on a single, vulnerable rope, probably passing by multiple sharp edges on a tower.

– The rescuer is put at risk more than in other techniques as they are included in the system.

– The rescuer must “multi task” more than in other systems. During descent they are abseiling down , operating a descender (which is, for many tower workers a very rare activity), managing the casualty, looking out for obstacles, trying to avoid the rope going over sharp edges…. There is a lot to do!

How easy is it to remember?

In the UK it is standard to do rescue refresher training annually (normally one day). Therefore techniques need to be easy to remember by people who do not normally work with ropes. On my entirely subjective scale where “1” is extremely hard to remember and “10” is very easy to recall this one scores:

8/10

There are lots of different techniques to be considered, and as we move through this series we’ll be looking at possible approaches from a range of perspectives. What systems are you using to rescue an unconscious casualty hanging on a fall arrest lanyard in free space?

These articles are designed only to provide an overview of certain approaches to rescue. They should not be used as a substitute for proper training, in person, by professionals. Very conveniently, that is exactly what we do! Reax provide training in work at height, confined space, rope rescue and many other disciplines. Please contact us at www.reaxltd.com for more information or call us on 01253 767775.