Whilst abseiling is usually a very safe activity if it is conducted under supervision by a qualified instructor is performed from a structurally safe venue and the equipment is all in good working order, it can be dangerous too if proper precautions aren’t taken.
Preparation is the first essential component in making an abseiling adventure safe and should be carried out well before the abseil actually takes place.
The first thing to consider is the venue. Usually, an abseil will be performed off the top of a building or some other rigid structure. The first thing to ensure is that it is rigid and a qualified instructor should be able to determine that.
The next thing to look at is the equipment. Many injuries have occurred whilst abseiling due to worn out or faulty equipment. This should be thoroughly checked beforehand and it’s also useful to keep records of how many times a particular piece of equipment is used. Well worn or frayed ropes can result in fatal accidents.
In addition to the equipment being in good condition and showing no signs of wear and tear, any part that comes into contact with the person who is making the descent should be adjusted so that it fits the person correctly and safety helmets should always be worn and checked for cracks prior to use.
It’s also recommended to wear gloves and also elbow pads and knee pads for added protection against bumps, scrapes and friction burns.
The instructor should also give a thorough briefing to the participants prior to the descent and things that could be dangerous, such as long hair, should be tied back so that it cannot come into contact with any of the equipment. This is the time for participants to ask the instructor any questions as this creates reassurance and minimises the risk of danger.
What can go Wrong?
If the structure isn’t safe, there’s a possibility that loose parts of it can fall onto the person’s head and, even if it is safe, if you’re abseiling down a jagged cliff, for example, and you haven’t bothered to check the specific drop point. The rope could end up getting snagged on some jagged point and this could possibly even result in it getting tangled up or even breaking.
If the knots and safety back up knots have not been correctly tied, (a prussic knot is one of the safest back-ups) and the harness has not been attached properly and made secure, then a person could actually slip right off the rope which would obviously be catastrophic. Incorrect descent of the rope, i.e. descending too fast or losing control of the descent can also result in rope burns which can be extremely painful and dangerous if severe.
Even at the bottom of the descent, danger still lurks. Try and land softly as opposed to a thud as you may twist an ankle or jar a knee. When you reach the bottom, ensure that you move out of the way rapidly as there may be others coming down right behind you who may not see you below.
Apart from the above, abseiling is a fun activity carried out by keen enthusiasts and amateurs alike. An initial risk assessment of the location, proper qualified instruction, common sense, good equipment fitted and secured properly, good technique and a general awareness of things that can go wrong will usually mean that they don’t.