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Loose harness causes head injury (Read 5692 times)

Johnny Brown

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Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 03:10:26 pm
I'm sure you're all already aware of Mina's injury at Malham described here: http://www.minalesliewujastyk.com/a-tough-day-at-malham-cove

Rather than get bogged down in the 200 post thread at UKC mostly asking why not wear a helmet, I'm more interested in what went on in the fall.

As some of you know I'm heavily involved professionally in height safety, and have been involved in both accident analysis and drop test over the years. Mina states:

Quote
My fall was weird but it was weird for a reason: my harness was too big for me. Although it wouldn’t have come off, the waist section was way too big and as a result the force of the rope tightening that would usually pull a climber upright in a straightforward fall, in this case didn’t. My harness got pulled upright but I continued to flip backwards and slide sideways with the force of the fall. Like I said previously, I have taken the exact same fall in the past and it has been totally safe but, after losing some weight in the last 6 weeks, my harness (although done up to the max) was loose.

My first instinct is that this cannot be the whole story. I think Mina's thought process is understandable - what has changed since last time? Nothing... except ah I've lost weight! But I've spoken to a few folk at work today - including the likes of an IRATA level 3/ 8c climber with a 1st in Engineering - and they had the same reaction as me. There would be a load more questions I would be asking before coming to any conclusions - sport climbing currency, mechanism of fall etc including was this just bad luck. I would be very wary of assuming a smaller harness equals problem solved. Any thoughts?

jwi

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#1 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 03:34:56 pm
I tied in wrong, only tying in to the leg-loops, and fell. I flipped over almost backwards, even though I fell straight down. I'm not sure I'd dare to try to replicate it.

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#2 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 04:19:05 pm
I've been watching my kids fall, quite a bit, lately. They do so with gay abandon and typical childish fearlessness, but for the first time in my long years of climbing, I'm really paying attention to how people fall (sorry everyone I ever belayed before, you just weren't "mine" in the same way).
I really want to put them in a chest harness! One of then is going to flip soon. I know their harnesses fit well and I couldn't wait to rush them out of those full body harnesses into sit harnesses (which often lead to split lips and odd hanging positions, until we started using a tape to move the knot above their heads, fine for toddlers on top ropes, but by age six they were itching to lead, so...).
Just can't imagine taking a lead fall with a chest harness though, can you?
Or even leading with a chest harness?
No, sounds awful and probably more dangerous.

Pretty sure it's always going to happen and that there's no magic bullet of harness design that will prevent it. Sorry JB, it's got to be another advert for helmets; spending time with TobyD over the last year already had me dig out mine...

Ru

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#3 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 05:36:28 pm
I've had a similar fall - steep sport route (35-40 degrees overhanging) and inverted in the same way and hit the back of my head, leaving me mildly concussed. My harness wasn't too big. I thought my inversion was caused by the belayer taking the rope tight as I fell, which gave a very tight arc into the rock combined with an early force from the rope pulling my lower body towards the bolt as my upper body and head continued to fall. As the route was so steep I had passed the bottom of the arc (at which point the rope was vertical out from my harness back up to the bolt and I was almost horizontal with my feet pointing towards the rock) and started going back up slightly so that my feet came above the horizontal. The impact of my feet to the rock then flipped me backwards and upside down and I carried on swinging so that the back of my head hit the rock. I have since taken the same fall with a softer catch without problems. I think a hard catch, on steep rock, with the bolt some distance below your feet, combined with a bit of bad luck and slightly awkward body position at the start of the fall can cause you to flip. I think the same phenomenon was the cause of the notoriously bad fall on Mecca that used to sometimes happen if you skipped the bolt at the top of the groove (Simon Reed fell foul of this and was hospitalised). Since everyone now uses a kneepad to clip the bolt at the top of the groove it's no longer a risk, but pre knee-pads it was routinely skipped.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2017, 05:52:11 pm by Ru »

danm

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#4 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 06:22:59 pm
Hmm, someone should probably tell Michaela about that then, as that is exactly her plan for doing Mecca. She wants to do it sans knee-bar and told me she was going to skip the last clip.

I can sort of visualise that a loose fitting harness waist-belt might make you more likely to invert, but I tend to agree with you Ru. I wonder what the hardest redpoint wearing a helmet is?

duncan

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#5 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 06:44:12 pm
I wondered about this too after I read Mina's blog. Likewise I'm interested but struggling to understand the mechanism. I do think it's worthy of discussion independently of helmets and without attaching blame.

I'm guessing the fall is more-or-less the one Ben Moon demonstrates at 37 seconds ?
This fall must have been taken dozens of times by Rainshadow suitors so it's reasonable to ask "why me....why this time".

A climber is horizontal here, with the bolt below their tie-in point. Does the "something (that) fires off" influence this? Would a hand greasing-off pitch you head-down whereas a foot-slip do the opposite? If the harness fit is relevant, an inadvertent snug belay could pull the harness down a little, effectively lowering the tie-in point, possibly making an inverted fall more likely. A snug belay would also make the catch a little harder, exacerbating the swing toward the wall. This is highly speculative, possibly contradicted by Mina's report "my harness got pulled upright" (I'm not completely clear what that means), and quite probably wrong.

A Level Physics (grade B, decades ago) and never been near the route, so just keeping this warm for a physicist who has taken the fall once or twice....

Edit: noticed Ru also mentioned snug belay as I was writing.

Ru

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#6 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 06:52:02 pm
Watch the fall at 1:13 in the Ben Moon Video. Look at his body position as he hits the rock at the end of the fall. Now imagine the rope was taken tighter during the fall so that his hips were pulled upwards, his head a bit lower and his feet a bit higher. On impact with the rock his feet would be at the same height as, or higher than his head. In that position it doesn't take much to initiate a full invert, especially if there is a bit of sideways movement or anything else that can cause you to start to pivot around the harness attachment point.

jwi

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#7 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 07:00:14 pm
The distance between the effective tie-in point and the center of mass definitely changes the risk of flipping over. If you are not convinced: tie in just to the leg loops and take a small fall.

habrich

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#8 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 07:36:31 pm
My first instinct is that this cannot be the whole story. I think Mina's thought process is understandable - what has changed since last time? Nothing... except ah I've lost weight! But I've spoken to a few folk at work today - including the likes of an IRATA level 3/ 8c climber with a 1st in Engineering - and they had the same reaction as me. There would be a load more questions I would be asking before coming to any conclusions - sport climbing currency, mechanism of fall etc including was this just bad luck. I would be very wary of assuming a smaller harness equals problem solved. Any thoughts?

That sounds correct to me.

I have pondered Mina's account of her fall quite a bit, as I have what I assume is the same/ similar Arc'teryx harness (FL 365) and have noticed some odd movement with it during falls. I also struggled to size it correctly as I seem to be too big for a small but at the skinny end of medium. I bought the medium but have to buckle it at as tight as possible. During falls that have some sideways element, like, say, slapping unsuccessfully for a side pull on steep rock, I find the harness tends to re-position an inch or two laterally. Disconcerting but not obviously dangerous (and otherwise I really like the harness so am not in a rush to replace it).

It also strikes me that a slightly-too-small harness will have a lower tie-in point relative to centre of gravity than a slightly-too-large harness. Wouldn't that increase the chance of being inverted in a fall?


moose

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#9 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 09:23:09 pm
This is really trivial and off-topic but is anyone else getting a jarring sensation and having to do a "double take" everytime they see the topic title? I think I have grown so used to people misspelling "lose" as "loose" that I have developed a Pavlovian reaction and get all annoyed and pendatic at sight of the word "loose", even when used correctly.

tomtom

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#10 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 09:55:36 pm
This is really trivial and off-topic but is anyone else getting a jarring sensation and having to do a "double take" everytime they see the topic title? I think I have grown so used to people misspelling "lose" as "loose" that I have developed a Pavlovian reaction and get all annoyed and pendatic at sight of the word "loose", even when used correctly.

Slack harness causes head injury...

joel182

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#11 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 09:58:24 pm
This is really trivial and off-topic but is anyone else getting a jarring sensation and having to do a "double take" everytime they see the topic title? I think I have grown so used to people misspelling "lose" as "loose" that I have developed a Pavlovian reaction and get all annoyed and pendatic at sight of the word "loose", even when used correctly.

Just you, mose.

Paul B

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#12 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 04, 2017, 10:18:54 pm
JB, the fall was filmed by a passer by and was part of the blog initially. I didn't fancy watching it but perhaps there might be a way to see it?

Johnny Brown

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#13 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 09:33:11 am
Good discussion.

jwi, I don't think anyone is disputing that tying into the leg-loops only is a terrible idea. It isn't the same as the waist being a bit loose though. I haven't seen Mina recently but she was hardly a chubber so I find it hard to believe that suddenly her waistbelt was so low it was ineffective.

In industry, we do have chubbers and some don't have the core strength to sit upright, so we put them in a bigger harness - the rise is greater so the waistbelt rides higher - above their CoG. Fit climber-types on the other hand will often squeeze into the smallest harness (I do) as the lower centre of gravity gives greater mobility. We are hanging rather than falling though, so I hesitate to infer too much.

Agree with the other points raised - I don't find it hard to imagine a similar situation (like Ru describes) with no obvious cause. Details on the fall and catch would be useful. Yeah the video would be good. Look forward to Prof Stu's input.

It's worth being aware that in these situations the motivation to find a simple 'external' root cause is very high. Here I'm sure Mina is very keen to avoid this becoming a head problem on a route she's got a lot invested in and publicised as much. Similarly I'm sure she's very keen to avoid any kind of blame for her belayer. However you need to put 'blame' aside and ask whether different actions might have had different results.

From Mina's blog it sounds as if she's spent the summer bouldering and has just returned to sport. In accident analysis in any other field this lack of currency would definitely be considered a likely contributory factor.

I haven't mentioned helmets yet but I have been wearing one more and more the last few years. The latest Petzl Sirocco is 160gms and is barely noticeable if it matches your head shape. Following this and Toby's accident I'll probably start wearing it on sport as well as trad now.



abarro81

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#14 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 01:07:08 pm
I'm guessing the fall is more-or-less the one Ben Moon demonstrates at 37 seconds ?

More like the one at 1.12 by the sounds of it... Ru's thoughts make more intuitive sense to me, but I've not sat down and thought about it properly

Will Hunt

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#15 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 01:17:52 pm
My thoughts are similar to JB's. Mina may have lost a little weight, but given her already trim figure can it really be that her harness is so significantly looser as to cause this inversion?

The arguments around a tighter catch are more compelling to me. I can understand why she might not want to ask too many questions around this though, for the reasons that JB has already stated. In that video of Moon falling off (at 37 seconds) his big drop knee is the bit that pops. If he'd stayed locked into this and it'd been his hand that went I can imagine the fall being a lot more inverty. It's not so helpful that thousands of not-very-experienced climbers have now been given a definite message that this accident was caused by a slightly baggy harness, and not by any other mechanism. Great for Cotswolds and Shark as people rush out to buy the smallest harness they can pack into, not great for crag safety.

The truth is probably closer to "the catch was slightly too hard, the fall is one of those falls, the harness was a touch on the slack side, and every so often you roll the dice and get snake eyes".


Now for my usual moan when there's a discussion about helmets or the safety of sport climbing:
It's a bitter pill for a lot of people but I just don't think that sport climbing is as safe and predictable as people like to think. I can think of loads of times where I've fallen off stuff and I've ended up horizontal. Slappy sideways moves, bolt off to the side, whatever - it can easily happen. I've heard of loads and loads of people getting serious head injuries when sport climbing because they've inverted - very few of them are complete punters. Having fallen off redpoints with and without a helmet, I can honestly say that I've never fallen off anything because my performance was impaired by a helmet (I accept that I'm operating at a very moderate level, but the mechanics are the same). A good fitting helmet is not going to impede the movement of your head. A modern lightweight helmet weighing 200g would be a third of one percent of a 60Kg climber's bodyweight. Is that really the reason you've fallen off?

It's also worth mentioning that of the 5 or so times that I've been at the crag when a serious fuck up has happened and people have been hospitalised, 2 of those times have definitely been caused by belayer error (dropped climber), one of those times was likely resultant of belayer error (standing too far back from the crag and unzipping wires), 2 were down to climber error (slipping on wet rock and falling off a bold route before getting to the gear).
My point is not that the belayer in this case made a mistake, but just to highlight that even highly competent belayers do make fuck ups at times. This is something that you as a climber have little control over once you've chosen to let someone belay you and you've started climbing.

I think both Mina and Toby have now said that they will wear helmets more routinely on sport routes. A stitch in time saves nine metal staples keeping your skull together.

T_B

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#16 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 01:47:35 pm
Accidents are very rarely about just one thing. They tend to be a number of smaller factors which unfortunately come together at the same time.

It's unfortunate that the video is no longer in the public domain (though maybe it wasn't for very long anyway). But I can kind of understand why it may have been removed.

On a separate note to helmets, one thing that always worries me at sport crags is the amount of banter. If you're belaying and you need to be able to give a dynamic belay (or just knowing when to take), being distracted is clearly not good. I wish people were more mindful about chatting with belayers when they haven't got someone actually sat on the rope.

I once dropped Ben Pritch pretty much the full height of the Cornice WCJ (that's how it felt at the time, anyway) as I was too busy talking to someone  :'(

petejh

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#17 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 02:39:52 pm
Has the rope been considered as a factor? The designed impact force of a single rope will make a difference to the softness of catch; therefore (potentially, according to theories here) the chance of inverting/or a hard swing-in. Mina may have taken a number of falls in the minutes/hour leading up to the fall which injured her. This would have negatively affected the rope's dynamic properties (making it a harder catch, all else being equal). Combined with belayer behavior - could be significant.

Oldmanmatt

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#18 Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 03:14:54 pm
Has the rope been considered as a factor? The designed impact force of a single rope will make a difference to the softness of catch; therefore (potentially, according to theories here) the chance of inverting/or a hard swing-in. Mina may have taken a number of falls in the minutes/hour leading up to the fall which injured her. This would have negatively affected the rope's dynamic properties (making it a harder catch, all else being equal). Combined with belayer behavior - could be significant.

I'd never considered that, should we be end for ending after every significant fall or two?

Also, soft catching with a GriGri? Hmmm...

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#19 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 03:33:21 pm
Has the rope been considered as a factor? The designed impact force of a single rope will make a difference to the softness of catch; therefore (potentially, according to theories here) the chance of inverting/or a hard swing-in. Mina may have taken a number of falls in the minutes/hour leading up to the fall which injured her. This would have negatively affected the rope's dynamic properties (making it a harder catch, all else being equal). Combined with belayer behavior - could be significant.

I'd never considered that, should we be end for ending after every significant fall or two?

Also, soft catching with a GriGri? Hmmm...

The BD QC Lab people gathered a little bit of data on letting ropes rest between falls.

Duncan campbell

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#20 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 03:52:17 pm
Has the rope been considered as a factor? The designed impact force of a single rope will make a difference to the softness of catch; therefore (potentially, according to theories here) the chance of inverting/or a hard swing-in. Mina may have taken a number of falls in the minutes/hour leading up to the fall which injured her. This would have negatively affected the rope's dynamic properties (making it a harder catch, all else being equal). Combined with belayer behavior - could be significant.

I'd never considered that, should we be end for ending after every significant fall or two?

Also, soft catching with a GriGri? Hmmm...

Jumping up innit

petejh

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#21 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 03:53:42 pm
Plenty of useful data in the BD tests - one of the most illuminating to me is this:

''Allowing the rope to rest 24 hours still resulted in a 2nd drop load [impact force] of 11% greater than the first drop''

Reminds me of a time before I knew about this sort of thing. Practicing skipping a clip and taking multiple falls from the headwall of a route on LPT, with not very much time between falls. The 3rd fall felt significantly more harsh than the first, to the point that it shit me up a little.

Oldmanmatt

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#22 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 04:35:22 pm
Oofff!
Yep, I remember spending days "Practicing lead falls".
Ta for that.


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Rob F

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#23 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 05, 2017, 06:04:46 pm
Wise words from the UKB crew.

This vid popped up on my utube / worth a watch...


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#24 Re: Loose harness causes head injury
September 19, 2017, 09:01:10 pm
Hmm, someone should probably tell Michaela about that then, as that is exactly her plan for doing Mecca. She wants to do it sans knee-bar and told me she was going to skip the last clip.



No it's fine; as discussed you just need a soft belay so that you fall into the space.


Good thread.