We’ve all been there, standing on a platform when you notice something that makes you say, “Oh, no!” It could be an incorrect connection point, a loose harness—any incident that, if it played out just a little differently, could have led to an incident resulting in an injury.
We can learn a lot from these near-miss scenarios. The first step in that learning is to acknowledge that near misses do happen, even to the best of us. This column will share some real stories from aerial adventure pros about near misses they’ve encountered. The goal is to learn from them so other staff don’t make the same mistakes.
Certain details, such as names and other identifying information, have been omitted or changed to protect the identity of those who submitted a story about a near miss.
Do you have a near miss to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was standing on the platform, talking with the guests on our tour, while John, my co-guide, hooked each of them up in turn to the free fall and sent them to the ground. Approximately three or four guests in, John connected a woman to the free fall and led her to the edge of the platform. There she froze, too afraid to jump.
After John spent some time encouraging her, the woman decided that she was too afraid, and asked to be unclipped from the free fall. John did exactly as she asked, and unclipped the carabiner from the free fall device—but he did so before reattaching her lanyards to the platform lifeline.
I noticed right away, and reached out for her lanyard to reattach her to the platform lifeline. John saw what I was doing and realized his mistake instantly, and moved the second lanyard over to the lifeline.
How did this go wrong? As a new guide, John had recently been through training. Even so, he was flustered after a long day of tours, and had been intently focused on the process of the free fall. So, when the guest asked to be unclipped from the free fall device, he did not think it through completely, and skipped the step of returning the woman’s lanyards to the lifeline.
The lesson: Following this near miss, as a team we reviewed the incident and what was done wrong along with how to avoid it in the future. It may seem like a simple thing, but sometimes—especially when you are distracted by something out of the normal routine—those are the easiest steps to miss. It is important to slow down and try and focus on the task at hand, especially when the situation changes.
Brake Line Tangle
The brake system on our multi-line canopy tour includes a brake shuttle that automatically resets. Standard operating procedure is to catch a guest at the end of the zip line, attach them to the platform lifeline, and then remove the trolley from the cable. That releases the brake shuttle and allows it to reset.
Prior to clearing the line, we are supposed to watch the brake reset, to ensure that it has done so properly and is not tangled in any way, as part of our ongoing inspection of the course.
A guest zipped in and I attached him to the platform, releasing the brake shuttle and allowing it to reset. The brake shuttle slid out on the cable and appeared to be in the correct position, so I began to communicate with the other guide to send the next guest.
During this process I happened to look up, and noticed that the brake rope, which is attached to the brake shuttle, was tangled around a carabiner used to help keep that rope in position. I immediately called to the other guide to hold the next guest. Then I climbed up to untangle the rope.
Had I not looked up when I did, and the next guest had been sent, the tangled line may have prevented the brake from operating properly, and that could have led to an injury. While I did end up noticing the line in the end, the fact that I did not notice it when I was doing my inspection of the brake shuttle could have been catastrophic.
The upshot: As a result of this near miss, all staff trained for this position went out for some additional training, and practiced climbing up to untangle the retrieval rope. Our hope is that training the process of how to fix this issue will reinforce the need for guides to quickly inspect the entire brake assembly prior to clearing the line.