European Union News
August 22, 2013
A Southampton, England, firm was prosecuted after an outdoors activity instructor was left permanently disabled when he used a defective rope for a simulated parachute landing.
Joshua Senior, 25, plunged nine meters to the ground at the Rock UK Adventure Center in Carroty Wood, near Tonbridge, Kent, on Aug. 25, 2010. Instead of allowing Senior to descend in a measured way, the rope supplied by Pfeifer Rope & Tackle unraveled as he stepped off a platform for a practice descent.
Senior, an experienced instructor from Tonbridge Wells, suffered a broken back and was paralyzed from the waist down for six months. He slowly regained some use of his lower limbs over the following year with the help of Stoke Mandeville Hospital. As he was regaining movement, it became clear his ankle had been crushed and his right foot had to be amputated.
On Aug. 15, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted the company for serious safety breaches at Southampton Magistrates' Court.
The court was told that Pfiefer Rope & Tackle, of Marchwood, Southampton, which makes and supplies ropes and lifting equipment, had supplied batches of ropes at the request of Rock UK to use in a “parafan” device—which simulates parachute landings.
The rope goes from the person's harness to the shaft of the parafan and the fan slows the person's descent to that of a real parachute landing. Senior fitted the first rope of the new batch and carried out all the tests prescribed by the parafan manufacturer before performing the final test using the parafan itself.
However, because the company had used the wrong components when making this batch of rope eye-end terminations, as Senior jumped from the climbing tower on which the parafan was fitted, the rope parted from his harness and he fell to the ground 30 feet below.
The court was told that Pfiefer Rope & Tackle had not operated their quality control system. There had been a failure by the company to perform a simple measurement check on the end terminations to confirm they had been fully crushed.
Pfiefer Rope & Tackle was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £6,348 in costs after admitting breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE Specialist Inspector Steve Simmons-Jacobs said:
"This was an avoidable incident that has had a severe impact on a young life. It is only a matter of chance that this was not a fatality. As it is, Mr. Senior has suffered life-changing injuries and has now been fitted with a prosthetic foot.”
"Rope and sling manufacturers have a duty to their customers and others to ensure that the product is suitable for the designed loads and that their quality control systems are robust and effective at all times. Companies must realize that their systems may be critical to the health and safety of the people who use their products."
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