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Faulty rope led to amputation for outdoors instructor

15 August 2013

A Southampton firm was today 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 some nine metres to the ground at the Rock (UK) adventure centre in Carroty Wood, near Tonbridge, Kent, on 25 August 2010. Instead of allowing Mr Senior to descend in a measured way, the rope supplied by Pfeifer Rope & Tackle Ltd simply unravelled as he stepped off a platform for a practice descent.

Mr Senior, an experienced instructor from Tonbridge Wells, suffered a broken back and was paralysed from the waist down for some 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.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and today (15 August) prosecuted the company for serious safety breaches at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.

The court was told that Pfiefer Rope & Tackle Ltd, 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. Mr 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 Mr 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 Ltd 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 Ltd., of Marchwood Industrial Park, 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 realise that their systems may be critical to the health and safety of the people who use their products."

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

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