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Roco Chats with the Experts | Petzl America

Friday, April 05, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

Pat Furr: Welcome to the second installment of Roco Chats With The Experts. I’m Pat Furr from Roco Rescue and this month we are pleased to welcome Michel Goulet and John Dorough of Petzl America. We are going to do a deep dive on some of Petzl’s most popular items, which is great because readers will get insights straight from the experts on the Petzl I’D and the JAG System, the Rescucender cam, the ASAP and ASAP Lock, the latest in helmets and more.

If you are involved in technical rope rescue, or work in the vertical environment, and you are NOT familiar with the Petzl brand, you are indeed a rare bird. My introduction to Petzl was in the mid 1980’s when I finally hung up my Willans harness and got my first of many Petzl sit harnesses. To understand the leap from my old Willans diaper to a modern, comfortable, and genuinely safe harness, I would compare it to going from an oil lamp to LED light bulbs. Well, nearly that big a leap anyways.

Michel and John, if you are ready, I would like to start out by asking you to introduce yourselves and tell us what got you started with Petzl and working with equipment to support folks in the vertical realm…

Michel Goulet: Well, I have always been active in the outdoors and in 1980 I started an outdoor rock-climbing school in Ottawa. I ran that for about 6-7 years and I quickly realized that most of our students were coming for professional reasons instead of for recreation. That gave me the idea to switch the focus from outdoor recreation to working with professionals at height, which made the wife happy as we didn’t have to work as many weekends. I met some of the Petzl folks, after I made a presentation at the North American Technical Rescue Symposium here in Kelowna, BC in 1996. A job opened up and I was hired in 2003.

John Dorough: My association with Petzl nearly mirrors Michel’s. I was in college getting my degree in Natural Resource Management, but on my off time I drank the juice of all things rock-climbing. My goal was to get out to Yosemite Valley and somehow write it off as school work. I was able to convince a couple of professors and my parents and ended up going out there to complete some practicals toward my degree. I got into big wall climbing where I met the Yosemite Search and Rescue team. I needed to do an internship for my degree and ended up finding one with Petzl, which was great because they paid me in climbing gear. Fast forward to now, I am one of the principle Petzl representatives along with my brother for the Mid-Atlantic, South East and South Central regions of North America on the professional side.

PF: Michel, you mentioned at your outdoor rock-climbing school that a lot of your students were there for their work instead of recreation. Was that a precursor to your involvement in rope access?

MG: That was the mid to late 90’s, pretty much when SPRAT got going. I think IRATA was about 10 years old but didn’t have much presence in Canada. This was a time when a lot of steel workers, bridge inspectors, and riggers were starting to use rock-climbing techniques as a way to safely access work at height.

PF: Rope access is such a safe and efficient option it seems it’s mostly just a matter of introducing industries and employers to it. I know Petzl and Petzl equipment is integral to rope access continuing to move forward. How do you come up with the ideas for new equipment?

MG: In the early days we got into the habit of deciding what the customers wanted and needed. Frankly, that has changed dramatically in the last ten years or so. We have opinion and thought leaders representing the 7 or 8 industries that we work with most. Some of the best ideas come from the practitioners who are always looking to find a more efficient and safer way to work at height. Once we decide to move forward on a product, we try to be as innovative as possible. For most products, we field test it for 2-3 years by turning it over to select practitioners to evaluate. They are experts at their jobs, while we are product experts, so it is a great partnership.

JD: Petzl is really good with innovation, but equally as good about product evolution. For instance, the I’D is on its 3rd generation, and the ASAP has also evolved to its current 2nd generation. We have the ability to talk with the practitioners in the various industries and from different regions. The tower workers in Texas may have different needs and use different techniques than those in Europe. In this way we are able to identify gaps as well as common needs, region to region. We really listen to all the markets and the practitioners’ needs.

PF: Is it challenging to design products that not only meet the needs of the users, but also conform to the various legislated or consensus standards requirements?

MG: That is a gigantic challenge for any global manufacturing company with a market that includes over 60 different countries. Our rope access harness has 5 different certifications. It would be great if there were an ISO standard for our types of products so we could meet just the one standard.

PF: I have my favorite pieces of kit, and you are probably not surprised to hear that the Petzl I’D is absolutely one of my favorites. It is so much more than a mere Industrial Descender (I’D). How and when did you realize that it has so many capabilities beyond its name? 


(photo courtesy of Petzl)

MG: I made a presentation at a symposium when the I’D first came out in the mid-90s. I saw how it could be used as a progress capture device and back pulley on a haul system. Arborists are using it as a releasable anchor for emergency lowers. We are launching an updated version of the I’D this April. And we are adding the I’D Evac to the line. The updated I’D will automatically lock when you release the handle, so it is no longer a point of failure on rope access evaluations if you do not manually lock the device. It also has some added features that prevent the rope from twisting on long descents and has more durable steel materials on the rolled edge and the capstan. On the I’D Large, we reintroduced the safety clicker (quick release side plate) - since NFPA changed the strength requirements for descent devices.

PF: I must say I was disappointed when the I’D Large came out without the quick release side plate. So I am very glad to see its return.

JD: Hey, don’t blame us though, that was driven by an outside organization.

PF: Oh I know, it was that dang NFPA 1983 tech committee. Note: that was tongue in cheek as the author is a member of the NFPA 1006 tech committee.

MG: Unfortunately we had to work with a finite minimum breaking strength and couldn’t include the fact that the I’D as well as most of our products are designed to slip under a load of about 4-5 kn, and the chances of bringing the I’D to failure are reduced tremendously provided there is not a stopper knot tied behind the device. The new I’D has a means of attaching an auxiliary piece to it’s moving side plate that becomes a redirect which adds friction and control of heavier loads.

PF: That redirect will also make it easier for technicians to operate the device on a lower when the I’D is mounted at shoulder height or higher as they will no longer have to hold the standing section of rope high over the device while operating it.

MG: Precisely, and that’s why we have added the I’D Evac to our JAG rescue kit. The I’D Evac operating lever opens the device to allow travel 90 degrees out from the regular I’D. This is a much more intuitive and comfortable position for high mounted friction control devices

JD: Pat, to your earlier point that the I’D may be thought of as only a descender. But what I would say is it can perform the four major food groups of rescue and rope access. Those being; ascent, descent, haul, and lower. When the I’D first came out and for a year or so after, we would go out to visit the users and they were only using it for personal descent, but now when we visit, they are using it for all four of those types uses.

PF: Michel mentioned it being used as a releasable anchor. We have many clients who work as a two-person team using basic rope access techniques. We teach them to use the I’D as a dynamic anchor on both the main and safety line. This way it can be used as an immediate emergency lower, or it can be quickly built into a Z-rig for a 3:1 or 5:1 emergency haul on either of the ropes.

MG: It is a great device to use as an anchor for high lines as you are essentially introducing a slip gear to the system, so you are less likely to overload your anchors. But ropes from various manufacturers will slip and perform slightly differently so it is important to practice & test and see what the difference is in performance.

PF: The I’D only gets better when the user learns some of the subtleties regarding its use. For instance, when you need to remove slack through the device, I have seen users fumble trying to push and pull rope through and it generally gets hung up on the anti-error catch. Once they learn to keep a bit of tension on the working section of rope and pull harder away from the anchor on the standing section all of a sudden, things are much easier. Or if you need to feed rope to the working section, just turning the device 90 degrees to the anchor will allow rope to feed through easily. It is great to see users who have been practicing with the I’D performing these skills as if it were second nature.

MG: Just a word of caution if you are turning the I’D 90 degrees to the travel of the rope, you are defeating the camming effect, and if you have a load or are using it to belay, you must have a very light grip on the device so it will pull itself inline and stop the load should the need be.

PF: One issue our end users are constantly fighting is having enough time to practice their skills and maintaining proficiency. When it comes to mechanical advantage systems, sometimes they get a little befuddled building an MA up from scratch. Or if they rely on pre-built MAs, if they are not careful how they stow or pull the pre-built MA out of the bag, the bottom set of pulleys may flip through and between the lines and create a tangled mess. But Petzl has the JAG system which is a pre-built 4:1 or 5:1 MA that has a mesh sock around it which prevents the system from becoming entangled. Have you considered building the JAG into longer lengths to add additional throw to the system? Or even with larger diameter pulley sheaves?

JD: When we consider innovative products, we try not to limit it to the high-end proficient user that is looking for the little bit of advantage in efficiency or safety. Often times there are opportunities to make products that are most helpful to the less proficient user, and the JAG is one product that certainly helps the user that struggles to build MAs or struggles to keep their MAs from tangling. We see that situation all the time where a rescue team will pull their pre-built MA out and it is so tangled that they end up taking it apart and rebuilding it from scratch. So the innovation of placing the mesh sock over the system really helps the less proficient user especially when confronted with the stress of an actual rescue, knowing that when they pull the JAG out of its bag it will be straight and ready for use.


(photo courtesy of Petzl)

MG: I will add that the JAG is now sold in three different lengths: 1, 2, and 5 meter lengths. We are really starting to encourage the use of twin tensioned line rescue systems for hauls and lowers. And we like to use the 5 meter JAG piggybacked onto the haul lines. Depending on how you orient the system, you end up with an 8:1 or 10:1 MA with the travel distance of a 4:1 or 5:1 since both systems are in play.

PF: That is really an advantage if you are short of manpower and end up with an 8:1 MA that may be enough for only two haul team members, one on each system with the benefit of having a belay function with the two tensioned system.

JD: The JAG System sock, as we like to call it, may cause concern for users regarding inspecting the system, but it is very easy to remove so they can inspect, or if they need to replace it should it be damaged.

PF: One of my pet peeves is seeing folks walking about with a two-piece mechanical cam hanging from their harness and the shell is not pinned to the shoe. This usually results in the two pieces breaking apart from each other and the shell is dropped to who knows where. Your current generation of the Rescucender cam has fixed that issue.


(photo courtesy of Petzl)

MG: When we first started to design that we were looking for an alternative to the Shunt possibly recommending it as a back-up device. We even had a small hole drilled into the body for the attachment of a light cord to tow the device on descent. But while talking with the practitioners, we decided we were going about this in the wrong way.  And about 8 years ago now, we decided the best backup device for self belay is the ASAP, so we shifted the intent for the new Rescucender for both a cam and a backup device to strictly a cam. For those of you not familiar with the new Rescucender, we replaced the wire that connects the shell and the cam with a steel flange. That wire would sometimes cause entanglement if the rope got wrapped into or behind it when assembling the cam. And if you needed to be fast with the device, lining up the holes with the safety pin could really be a bit of an aggravation. Now you can keep your pulley connected to the Rescucender and attach it to the rope which really speeds things up and reduces the potential for dropping the device. It has dual safety catches one on each side of the shell body. On fat, unloaded 12.8-13 mm rope, the device is a little tight when you are mounting it on the rope, but once it is mounted it works just fine.

JD: And as an instructor at the end of a long hot day, we have all been victims of demonstrating how to place the older two piece cams on a rope and with the sweat in our eyes fumbling with the pin trying to line things up, then dropping the cam, and having to start all over again, the new Rescucender makes it that much less likely we embarrass ourselves.

PF: Yup, been there done that…

JD: A byproduct of the new Rescucender is it makes all us instructor types look that much cooler. It is very intuitive to place and strike off the rope.

PF: We were talking about using the Shunt as a tended self belay, but now we have the ASAP and the ASAP Lock, which are both much better mousetraps than the Shunt for self belay. So not only do we have 100% arrest assurance with the ASAP versus having to remember to release the tow string on the Shunt, but the ASAPs are true automatic rolling belays that follow you up on ascent and lead you down on descent untended.

(photo courtesy of Petzl)

MG: That being said, I do want to say that no piece of equipment is foolproof, but the ASAPs are better devices for belay than the Shunt.

PF: Agreed Michel, and as we use the ASAPs both in training and operationally we realize there are certain considerations that require attention. You have a second generation ASAP called the ASAP Lock. Can you tell us how the device is different from the original?

MG: We have seen a huge growth in the wind industry and more bridge inspections are being performed using rope access techniques. These happen to be areas where there is a lot of wind, right? When you are working 150’ down from the hub, on the tip of a wind turbine blade, you have a lot of wind pushing against the rope between your anchor and the ASAP. Because the wheel of the original ASAP is freewheeling, it tends to let the wind push a loop of rope above the ASAP creating a significant fall potential, unless you remember to set the ASAP.  On the ASAP Lock, once you engage the lock, the rope will not pull up through the device creating that big loop. But the device will still move up the rope if you were to reposition. I think what people really like about the Lock version is you can keep the device connected to your harness when you are bypassing a knot or a redirect anchor. The ASAP 1 and 2 have to be disconnected from your rope by unclipping them from your lanyard and we see a lot of folks adding a light keeper loop to the body of the device to hook a lanyard to so as not to drop it. There exists a chance to wrongly reconnect the body of the ASAP to the rope without connecting the ASAP to your full strength lanyard and that could lead to disastrous results in the event of a fall. The new ASAP Lock can stay attached to your harness via the shock absorber and has 2 independent spring loaded catches to allow easy mounting and dismounting to your rope.

JD: Also on the original ASAP, to load the device onto the rope, you had to manually open the wheel with your hand to allow the rope to fit, and that was sometimes cumbersome. With the ASAP Lock, there are two spring loaded catches reminiscent of what you have seen on handled ascenders. These will hold the wheel away from the body of the device as you load the rope and you only need to bump the catches slightly and they lock the wheel onto the rope. One thing to note is that the ASAP and ASAP Lock are now compliant with ANSI standards when used in a vertical lifeline configuration with our ANSI compliant rope, shock absorbers and connectors.

MG: During rescue operation, the belay device needs to essentially be defeated to allow the rope to move through the mechanism when the load is moving away from the anchor point. Several field tests have been conducted over the past few years showing that the belay person needs to be very attentive and act swiftly when there is a mainline failure, disconnect or over-speed and they need to respond accordingly, allowing the belay device to capture and hold the load. Successful rescue load catches are not always possible when you add in a human factor.  With the ASAP you really take that guesswork away because the ASAP includes a brake that relies on centrifugal force, which is always present, and is a much surer way to eliminate a faulty belay activation method. Several fire departments have started using an anchored ASAP for their belay and have eliminated their miss-catches that they sometimes experienced in training and testing.  Petzl now allows the use of the ASAP LOCK in this fashion as long as an ASAP’SORBER AXESS  is used with two person rescue loads.

PF: I would like to think that most of us who build rescue systems or rope systems to support vertical work, need to use not only our physical attributes, but also our brainpower too. So it makes sense to protect our noggins. You have some interesting helmets that have some unique and specific features. Please tell us about some of your Petzl helmets.

JD: This is an exciting time because in 2019, we are launching our next generation Vertex helmet and introducing a new line called the Strato. We now have a flip and fit system for our suspension system which allows you to flip the entire suspension system up into your helmet where it is protected by the helmet shell. This prevents it from becoming maladjusted during transport or while jammed in your rescue bag. All our helmets for the professional market are type 1, top impact rated and meet ANSI standards as well. If you look in detail at the ANSI standards, you will see there are two types, one for work on the ground and one for work at height. So now we have a dual chinstrap that can convert to meet the ANSI standard for both work situations. We have been adding more and more accessories to our helmets through the years. We have had our VIZEN and VIZIR face shields. We’ve added a full face mesh. We have also added a means to protect these face shields by adding a garage for them where they just push the shield up into the garage when not in use. We have a disposable clear cover that fits onto the helmet shells to protect it from paint and any other staining products. We now have the EZ Clip for mounting accessories which eliminates the need to bolt on accessories using tools and time. Attaching and removing accessories now take seconds instead of minutes.

MG: We have also been able to reduce the price of the Vertex by about 20%. And the chinstraps are now interchangeable and come in two lengths. The face shield protector also allows the use of the headlamp to still fit into its slotted receiver. 

PF: Michel and John, I wish we had more time to go on to talk some more but I am afraid we will have to wrap things up for now. I hope we can revisit and talk about more of your products and even some techniques that are now available because of your products. Thank you so much for your time and I am sure we will see each other around soon.


Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).


All photos in this article courtesy of Petzl
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Confined Space Types - Are All Your Bases Covered?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Refineries, plants and manufacturing facilities have a wide range of permit-required confined spaces – some having only a few, while others may have hundreds. Some of these spaces may be relatively open and straightforward while others are congested and complex, or at height. With this in mind, are all your bases covered? Can your rescue team (or service) safely and effectively perform a rescue from these varying types of spaces? Or, are you left exposed? And, how can you be sure?

Rescue Practice & Preplanning

With a large number of permit spaces on site, it would be impossible for a rescue team to practice in each and every one. Plus, in most cases, the spaces are operating, functioning units within the plant. Because of this, section (k) of 1910.146 allows practice from “representative” spaces. This is where the Roco Confined Space Types Chart can make the process easier.

Using OSHA guidelines for determining representative spaces, the Roco Types Chart is designed to assist employers and rescue teams plan for various types of permit spaces.
The chart allows you to categorize permit spaces into six (6) confined space types, which can then be used to prepare rescue plans, determine rescue requirements, conduct practice drills or evaluate a prospective rescue service.

First of all, it's important to note that employers are required by 1910.146 and 1926 Subpart AA to allow rescue teams the opportunity to practice and plan for the various types of confined spaces they may be required to respond. This is critical for the success of the rescue, particularly timeliness, as well as for the safety of the rescuers.

Classifying and Typing Your Spaces
So, get out your clipboard, tape measure, some sketch paper, and a flashlight (if safe to do so) in order to view as much of the interior of the space as you can. And, if you absolutely need to enter for typing and/or rescue preplanning purposes, be sure to do so using full permitting procedures. Gaining access to architectural or engineering drawings may also be helpful in determining the internal configuration when actual entry is not feasible. Armed with this information, it is time to “type” the spaces in your response area using the Roco Confined Space Types Chart.

Over the decades, we’ve seen just about every type of confined space configuration out there. And, while there may be hundreds of permit spaces on site, most of them will fit into one of these six types and require the same (or similar) rescue plan. Of course, there are always unique situations in addition to physical characteristics, such as space-specific hazards or specialized PPE requirements, but this chart can be a valuable tool in the planning and preparation for confined space rescue operations.

We’ve also learned that it is imperative to understand the physical limitations of space access and internal configuration as well as how this affects equipment and technique choices for the rescue team. Referring to the Roco Types Chart and practicing simulated rescues from the relevant types of spaces will help identify these limitations in a controlled setting instead of during the heat of an emergency.

We can all agree that during an emergency is NOT the time to learn that your backboard or litter will not fit through the portal once the patient is packaged.
Six General Types
On the Roco Types Chart, you will note that there are six (6) general types identified, which are based on portal opening size and position of portal. Types 1 and 2 are “side” entries; Types 3 and 4 are “top” entries; and Types 5 and 6 are “bottom” entries. There are two types of each based on portal size, which is significant for rescue purposes. Openings greater than 24-inches will allow packaged patients on rigid litters or rescuers using SCBA to negotiate the opening; whereas, openings 24-inches or less will not.

Portals less than 24-inches will require a higher level of expertise and different packaging and patient movement techniques.
Once the various types have been determined, pay particular attention to spaces identified as Types 1, 3, or 5. Again, these spaces have the most restrictive portals (24-inches or less) and are considered “worst case” regarding entry and escape in terms of portal size. This is very important because it will greatly influence the patient packaging equipment and rescuer PPE that can be used in the space.

Accessibility and Internal Configuration
In addition to the “type” of the space based on portal size and location, another key consideration is accessibility or “elevation” of the portal. While the rescue service may practice rescues from Top, Side and Bottom portals – being at ground level is very different from a portal that’s at 100-ft. Here’s where high angle or elevated rescue techniques are normally required for getting the patient lowered safely to ground level.

Lastly, the internal configuration of a space must be carefully considered for rescue purposes. This will be discussed more in the following section on Appendix F.

Remember, rescue practice from a representative space needs to be a “true” representation of the kind of rescue that may be required in an emergency.
1910.146 Appendix F – Representative Spaces
In Appendix F, OSHA offers guidelines for determining Representative Spaces for Rescue Practice. OSHA adds that “teams may practice in representative spaces that are ‘worst case’ or most restrictive with respect to internal configuration, elevation, and portal size.” These characteristics, according to OSHA, should be considered when deciding whether a space is truly representative of an actual permit space.

(1) Internal Configuration 
What’s inside the space? If the interior is congested with utilities or other structural components that may hinder movement or the ability to efficiently package a patient, it must be addressed in training. For example, will the use of entrant rescuer retrieval lines be feasible? After one or two 90-degree turns around corners or around structural members, the ability to provide external retrieval of the entrant rescuer is probably forfeited. For vertical rescue, if there are offset platforms or passageways, there may be a need for directional pulleys or intermediate haul systems that are operated inside the space.

What about rescues while on emergency breathing air? If the internal configuration is so congested that the time required to complete patient packaging exceeds the duration of a backpack SCBA, then the team should consider using SAR. Will the internal configuration hinder or prevent visual monitoring and communications with the entrant rescuers? If so, it may be advisable to use an additional authorized rescuer as an “internal hole watch” to provide a communication link between the rescuers and personnel outside the space.

What if the internal configuration is such that complete patient packaging is not possible inside the space? This may dictate a “load-and-go” type rescue that provides minimal patient packaging while providing as much stabilization as feasible through the use of extrication-type short spine boards as an example.

(2) Elevation
If the portal is 4 feet or greater above grade, the rescue team must be capable of providing an effective and safe high angle lower of the victim; and, if needed, an attendant rescuer. This may require additional training and equipment. For these situations, it is important to identify high-point anchors that may be suitable for use, or plan for portable high-point anchors, such as a “man lift” or some other device.

(3) Portal Size
Here again, the magic number is 24 inches or less for round portals or in the smallest dimension for non-round portals. It is a common mistake for a rescue team to “test drive” their 22-to-23-inch wide litter or backboard on a 24-inch portal without a victim loaded and discover that it barely fits. However, the problem arises when a victim is loaded onto the litter. The only way the litter or backboard will fit is at the “equator” of the round portal. This will most likely not leave enough room between the rigid litter or backboard and the victim’s chest, except for our more petite victims.

For rescuers, it is already difficult to negotiate a portal while wearing a backpack SCBA. For portals of 24 inches or less, it’s nearly impossible. If the backpack SCBA will not fit, it is time to consider an airline respirator and emergency escape harness/bottle instead. Warning: Do NOT under any circumstances remove your backpack SCBA in order gain access to a confined space through a restricted portal or passageway. It is just too easy for a mask to become displaced.

(4) Space Access – Horizontal vs. Vertical
Most rescuers regard horizontal retrievals as easier than vertical. However, this is not always the case. If there are floor projections, pipe work or other utilities, even just a grated floor surface, it may create an incredible amount of friction or an absolute impediment to the horizontal movement of an inert victim. In this case, the entrant rescuers may have to rely on old-fashioned arm and leg strength to maneuver the victim.

Putting the Roco Types Chart into Practice
The Roco CS Types Chart can assist by first providing a way to classify and type your different kinds of spaces. This information can then be used to design training/practice drills as well as annual performance evaluations to make sure your rescue service is capable of rescue from the varying representative spaces onsite. Of course, this applies whether you use an in-house rescue team, a contracted rescue service, or a local off-site response team. Otherwise, how do you know if you truly have your bases covered? Don’t take that chance. If an incident occurs and the rescue personnel you are depending on are not capable of safely performing a rescue, your company could be culpable.

In section (k), OSHA requires employers to evaluate the prospective rescue service to determine proficiency in terms of rescue-related tasks and proper equipment.
If you need assistance with confined space typing or rescue preplan preparation, please contact us at info@rocorescue.com or 800-647-7626.

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Rescue Toolbox: Petzl ASAP LOCK

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Experienced rescuers know there are several ways to belay, or provide a safety line for a live load. Traditional belays include Tandem Prusiks, aperture devices, Munter Hitch, modern devices such as the ID or the MPD, and several others. What all of these devices have in common is the belay system is anchored with the line running through it as the load moves away from the anchors, or the line is pulled through the belay to take in slack as the load moves toward the anchors. These types of belay systems must be tended by a dedicated operator.

But certain professions and even alpinists and sport climbers have been using a different means of providing a belay for many years. This type of belay has been called a self-belay, or a traveling belay and it works by having the belay device attached to a fixed safety line, and the device travels along with the load as it ascends or descends. Window washers and rope access technicians have been relying on this type of belay for many years. Even soloist rock climbers or mountaineers have been using variations of self-belay or for alpinists fixed lines to negotiate difficult pitches in lieu of a roped party climb. 

Up until recently, these traveling belays required the individual on rope to pull the device along both on ascent and decent.
In fact, many times, devices that were not intended to be used as a belay device were and are still being used for this purpose. I’ve seen window washers using handled ascenders as their belay device and try as I might to explain to them that it would have a high potential to fail upon a shock load, they said it was the best they could come up with. The Petzl Shunt was a bit of improvement over handled ascenders, but it still needed to be “towed” up and down the line and the operator needed to remember to let go of the tow string should the mainline fail otherwise the device would not lock onto the line. Most all cam type devices will fail to lock on the rope if the body of the device is held when it is called to arrest a fall. But in the recent past a new “rolling” fall arrestor became available that overcomes many of the limitations of traditional belay devices. It is called the Petzl ASAP.

The ASAP comes in two versions, the original International version and the newer ASAP Lock (pictured here). The primary difference between the two versions is the Lock has a means to lock onto the rope when you get to your intended position, which prevents a large loop of rope building between the top anchor and the device. This feature is critical for individuals that stop to perform a function at height where the potential for wind to blow rope into a growing loop between the device and the top anchor which would create an unacceptable potential freefall distance. Both versions are compatible with 10-13 mm kernmantle rope, but to meet ANSI Z359.15 certification, they must be used with the Petzl RAY 12 mm rope, and specified connectors and energy absorbers. 

One advantage of having a rolling fall arrestor is it reduces the manning requirements as there no longer needs to be an individual operating the belay.
Another advantage is there is no guesswork as to the amount of slack in the belay lane as is possible when the load is out of sight of the belay operator. This is particularly common on longer drops as the weight of the safety line can fool some less experienced operators into believing that is the weight of the load. 

But there are also potential disadvantages to an automatic rolling fall arrestor. If you do not plan ahead and there is a mainline failure and the load is arrested by the ASAP, it isn’t going anywhere. It will be stuck right where it arrests on the safety line – that is, unless you did think ahead and anchor the safety line into a dynamic anchor. We like to use the Petzl ID (pictured here) or the CMC MPD for this purpose. This allows for an immediate emergency lower on the safety line or even a haul by building the dynamic anchor into a Z-Rig.

We have found the ASAP in either version to be a great device on an administrative safety line during tower rescue training, as it closely replicates conditions as they would most likely be in a real world small team, or one-on-one tower rescue, while providing the required level of safety that is relatively transparent to all involved. 

So, come to one of our tower classes to see the ASAP in use, and it may just turn out to be another tool for your rescue toolbox. Here is more information on Roco’s 30-hour Tower Work & Rescue training. For further assistance, please call our office at 800-647-7626. Also, here’s a video on these devices from Petzl.

ASAP Lock in ANSI-approved System Configuration









ASAP International Version (below)

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Inspection Process for Roco Training Ropes

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Question: We recently had a student ask how our training rope is monitored for wear and tear because of its extensive use...

Answer: Good question, and it’s a big job for us, no doubt. We’ve used and inspected a lot of rope in the past 35+ years, but this aspect of life safety can never be overlooked or taken lightly. As always, we urge everyone to carefully follow the care, use and inspection guidelines provided by their rope manufacturer. For added safety and as standard practice, we also use secondary back-up ropes and hardware in all field activities. 

Because we train thousands of students per year, we must accept the fact that there are numerous opportunities for our ropes to be exposed to wear such as being stepped on or exposed to dirt and gravel. It is for these reasons that we perform rigorous inspection of the ropes before and after use. Plus, we also conduct an annual competent person equipment inspection as recommended by NFPA.

As added safety, we also expect our students to do their part in monitoring the equipment during a class, and that’s why we’re glad you brought this up.
We teach and enforce rope care and inspection of all equipment, including ropes, in all of our classes. Inspections are accomplished at multiple times during any given class including during inventory. Additionally, all equipment is inspected by a Roco employee at the conclusion of each class. If there are any signs of damage or degradation that would render the rope unserviceable according to the manufacturer’s instructions for use, that rope will be taken out of service.

Of course, we’ve seen some rope damaged over the years, which is to be expected with the use our rope receives. However, to my knowledge, we’ve never had a rope failure. We’ve seen cut sheaths and sheath slippage, evidence of broken core fibers, and other damage that failed the rope inspection. But, not once, have we had a rope fail while it was being used to support a life load. The construction and the minimum breaking strength requirements of life safety rope provide a very substantial margin of safety. And, there again, we also have the redundancy of a back-up system in place.

All manufacturers of life safety rope are required by NFPA 1983 (2017 edition) to provide the following inspection criteria information in their instructions for use:

(1) Rope has not been visually damaged.
(2) Rope has not been exposed to heat, direct flame impingement, or abrasion.
(3) Rope has not been subjected to impact load.
(4) Rope has not been exposed to liquids, solids, gasses, mists, or vapors of any chemical or other material than can deteriorate rope.
(5) Rope passes inspection when inspected by a qualified person following the manufacturer’s inspection procedures both before and after each use.

The following inspection tips are provided by PMI Life Safety Rope:

HOW TO INSPECT YOUR ROPE

LOOK AT IT.... ALL OF IT!
Start at one end and look at every inch of the rope. Watch for signs that might indicate possible damage such as discoloration, chemical odors, abrasion, cuts or nicks in the outer sheath and visible differences in the diameter of the rope in one area in relation to the rest of the rope.

WRAP IT IN SMALL LOOPS AND LOOK!
Wrap the rope around your hand to form small loops at different random points along the ropes length. Look at these small loops as you make them, the consistency of the loop should be uniform throughout. If it’s not, you might have a problem with the rope’s core.

FEEL THE ROPE!
While you are looking at every inch of the rope, run it through your bare hands and feel it for changes that might indicate damage to the core. Changes may include any inconsistencies in rope diameter, soft or “mushy” spots, or extraordinarily stiff areas.

WRITE IT ALL DOWN!
Write the results of your inspection on the Rope Log included with your rope. Be sure to include anything you found in your inspection that might be or become a concern and document other important information about the rope such as an occurrence of uncontrolled or excessive loading, rope older than 10 years, contact with harmful chemicals, and history of use.

IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!
If you are not sure about the integrity of a rope........DON’T USE IT!
Consult the manufacturer if you need help.

So, thank you again for asking about the rope used continuously in our training programs. Even with our many years of experience, we do not take rope safety margins as a license to misuse our ropes. And that is why we are diligent in caring for and inspecting all of our equipment including the ropes. 

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Know When NOT to Enter a Confined Space!

Friday, August 17, 2018

There are countless injuries and deaths across the nation when workers are not taught to recognize the inherent dangers of permit spaces. They are not trained when "not to enter" for their own safety. Many of these tragedies could be averted if workers were taught to recognize the dangers and know when NOT to enter a confined space.

While this incident happened several years ago, it emphasizes the senseless loss of life due to a lack of proper atmospheric monitoring and confined space training. Generally, the focus for training is for those who will be entering spaces to do the work. However, we also must consider those who work around confined spaces – those who may be accidentally exposed to the dangers. Making these individuals aware of the possible hazards as well as to stay clear unless they are properly trained.

Note: This case summary from the New York State Department of Health goes on to say that the DPW had a confined space training program but stopped the training after the last trainer retired.

CASE SUMMARY - TWO (2) FATALITIES
A 48-year-old male worker (Victim I) employed by the Department of Public Works (DPW) and a 51-year-old male volunteer firefighter (FF Victim II) died after entering a sewer manhole located behind the firehouse. In fact, the Fire Chief was on scene because he had been called by the DPW general foreman to unlock the firehouse and move the firetruck so it would not be blocked by the DPW utility truck working at the manhole. Another firefighter also arrived to offer assistance, he later became FF Victim II.

The manhole was 18 feet deep with an opening 24-inches in diameter (see photo above). Worker Victim I started climbing down the metal rungs on the manhole wall wearing a Tyvek suit and work boots in an attempt to clear a sewer blockage. The DPW foreman, another firefighter and FF Victim II walked over to observe. They saw Victim I lying on the manhole floor motionless. They speculated that he had slipped and fallen off the rungs and injured himself. The Fire Chief immediately called for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, FF Victim II entered the manhole to rescue Victim I without wearing respiratory protection. The other firefighter saw that FF Victim II fell off the rungs backwards while he was half way down and informed the Fire Chief. The Fire Chief immediately called for a second ambulance and summoned the FD to respond. FD responders arrived within minutes.

The Assistant Fire Chief (AFC) then donned a self-contained breathing apparatus. He could not go through the manhole opening with the air cylinder on his back. The cylinder was tied to a rope that was held by the assisting firefighters at the ground level. The AFC entered the manhole with the cylinder suspended above his head. He did not wear a lifeline although there was a tripod retrieval system. He secured FF Victim II with a rope that was attached to the tripod.

FF Victim II was successfully lifted out of the manhole. The AFC exited the manhole before a second rescuer entered the manhole and extricated Victim I in the same manner. Both victims were transported to an emergency medical center where they were pronounced dead an hour later. The cause of death for both victims was asphyxia due to low oxygen and exposure to sewer gases.

Contributors to the Firefighter's Death:
• Firefighters were not trained in confined space rescue procedures.
• FD confined space rescue protocol was not followed.
• Standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not established for confined space rescue.

The DPW had developed a permit-required confined space program but stopped implementing it in 2004 when the last trained employee retired. They also had purchased a four-gas (oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and combustible gases) monitor and a retrieval tripod to be used during the training. It was reported that a permit-required confined space program was never developed because DPW policy “prohibited workers” from entering a manhole. However, the no-entry policy was not enforced. Numerous incidents of workers entering manholes were confirmed by employee interviews.

This incident could have been much worse. Training is the key, whether it’s just an awareness of the dangers in confined spaces or proper entry and rescue procedures. In this case, the victims had no C/S training even though they may have to respond to an incident, and the worker had not had on-going training through out his career. Periodic training to keep our people safe and aware of proper protocols is key to maintaining a safe work force.

Unfortunately, training is usually one of the first things to be cut when the budget gets tight; however, after an incident, it usually becomes the primary focus. Often the lack of training is determined to be a key element in the tragedy.
Investing in periodic training for the safety of your workforce includes spending the time and money to keep your trainers and training programs up to speed and in compliance. The old saying, “closing the barn doors after the horses escaped,” is no way to protect your people – a little investment in prevention goes along way in preventing these tragedies.

One last comment on my biggest pet peeve – proper, continuous air monitoring. This one step can reduce the potential of a confined space incident by about 50%! Don’t take unnecessary chances that can be deadly.

Dennis O'Connell has been a technical rescue consultant and professional instructor for Roco Rescue since 1989. He joined the company full-time in 2002 and is now the Director of Training and a Chief Instructor. Prior to joining Roco, he served on the NYPD Emergency Services Unit (ESU) for 17 years.

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