Dancing with death and coming out the other side. How many near misses does it take until we start learning from others' mistakes? That's where the BMC Incident and Near Miss reporting system comes into play. Find out more from Jon Garside, Training Officer for the BMC and Mountain Training England.
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes," sais Oscar Wilde, over 100 years ago. And it's this ethos that saw the transformation of the BMC's Incident and Near Miss reporting system. There's unlikely a climber or walker who hasn't had a incident or near miss to share; something that was formative in their development, and will forever be seared in their memory.
Since it's launch last year, the BMC's Incident and Near Miss reporting system has proven to be very popular, with over 150 recent and historical reports submitted. It was created as a forum to share experiences, promote reflection and effect behavioural change. Our hope is that reading about a near-miss due to a communication breakdown, or an injury from a slip, will lead to reflection in how we manage the risks when climbing, walking and mountaineering. And for for readers to make changes, however minor, where appropriate.
Mountain Guide Libby Peter and author of Mountain Training's Rock Climbing handbook agrees, "These reports are a treasure trove of life-saving golden nuggets. Often amusingly written but always with sobering content, they bring alive vital lessons for us all to learn, whether you're just starting out, or have been doing it for years."
Every month we post a report on our social media to prompt some reflection as you set off climbing, walking and mountaineering. You can also search the database yourself for the fully range of incidents reported.
Most of the reports submitted have been for climbing and mountaineering, and we would welcome more hill walking reports. Some reports note how little could have been done differently to avert an incident or near miss. Such is the nature of our activities. It is therefore worth considering reports where alternative actions could have made a difference; actions that are often identified by the person submitting the report.
Some themes have emerged, and with the cragging season now upon us it's timely to see what lessons might be learnt from a few shining examples:
About 20% of the total number of climbing reports come under the category 'Belaying failure or error' and almost all these near misses and incidents could have been avoided.
A number of these reports note a lack of understanding about a specific belay device. One near miss involved a manual braking device being used in guide mode when it did not have such a functionality. Another involved the belayer using an unfamiliar device.
Belaying research carried out by the German Alpine Club (DAV) suggests that human error is the number one cause of belaying accidents, not the belay dveice. But it can often be hard for the individual to recognise this, preferring to blame the device instead. As such, an important learning opportunity is missed.
Simple behaviour changes to consider include reading the manufacturer's instructions for your device and watching any device videos the manufacturer provides. Take time to consider if your choice of equipment is best for that specific climbing situation. Finally, if not confident using a certain belay device, then don't use it!
Check, check and check again!
For many years, the BMC has published posters and wall signage with simple messages such as 'Check your knot!' and 'Check your partner's knot!' With climbing involving so many safety-critical decisions then it makes sense to check! Even the most tried-and-tested approach can be compromised by a distraction, as one climber discovered when not completing the set-up of their belay.
A much more serious outcome befell Lynn Hill many years ago, when she did not complete her knot. This resulted in a ground fall and serious injury as recalled in an article by American climber John Long titled 'Complaceny: Safety's Worst Enemy'.
Whether a novice or climbing legend, no one's infallible. And two pairs of eyes are often better than one.
Our long-established climbing call system is one of those unchanging traditions that has stood the test of time. But when used incorrectly alongside expectations about how a belayer might behave, a climber can suddenly find themselves off belay at the lower-off, and very nearly taking a ground fall.
The fleeting lack of mindfulness noted by the climber who submitted that report is a common theme that reoccurs in many others. Some reports demonstrate how even in very foreseeable situations where communication will be compromised, a climbing party has not necessarily considered how they will manage the situation. In once case, this resulted in the second effectively soloing.
Submit your own close-call
Add your own account of an incident or near-miss to the systems to allow others to avoid making the same mistakes again.
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