Competence and Responsibility

article014Safety in adventure races is a major concern addressed by event organisers around the world. They have to ensure that whether the team is novice or experienced, they will be able to complete ropes, water, hiking, mountain biking, horse/camel riding and other disciplines; and that in the event of any emergency that the injured person will be transported to the nearest medical unit. Though accidents do happen, no matter what your level of experience, making certain that you are competent in each discipline is your responsibility.

Though I had thought about this some time back, particularly with the lack of existing racers at the rope skills courses, following a poor response for the swift water rescue course and lax attitude regarding first aid certification; a recent incident at a 30km sprint event brought the issue of “racer competence and responsibility” to light. The incident, related by event organiser Mike Baker, occurred as follows:

  1. We had three gravity traverse lines – manned by three competent marshals – set up over the water (which in this case saved her from serious injury)
  2. The Traverse takes about 5 seconds
  3. Competitors were all briefed – with TWO demonstrations – one with a safety harness and one without.
  4. They had the choice of a safety harness.
  5. When the lady got up the tower, the marshal saw she was tired and she was told to put on a harness, she refused, he insisted, turned to get the harness and she went anyway, jumping off the platform, losing her grip and falling into the water. She was treated by the medical crew and was taken to hopsital immediately. She fortunately sustained no injuries.

Although a “garden variety” discipline, had the gravity traverse not been suspended above water, the result of this fall could have been fatal.
The main errors were that the marshall’s instructions were disobeyed and that the lady had not taken note of the demonstrations, which indicated the correct method to be used to launch from the platform.

Though this was fortunately not a serious incident, it does raise the question of competence in general. With the introduction of the 25-30km sprint events last year and more recently the 100km short course events, we are likely to see more people tackling the 200km races, which they mistakenly expect to be the equivalent of 2x100km races. Thus, with relatively inexperienced people roaming the wilds, the occurrance of such incidents may rise.

In the past few years there have been a few occasions where, on the abseil, both in- and experienced racers have flipped up-side-down and have gone down without helmets etc – fortunately without injury. Although safety is the responsibility of the ropes company and the race organiser, it is also the responsibility of the racers. We should know what a proper setup looks like, what equipment we should be given and how to ascend, descend and traverse safely.

There may come occasions when we will need these skills to rescue another person in a race or to safely get down a cliff i.e. The Drifter team, caught in a steep gorge at Dragon’s Wrath, utilised their ropes skills to set up a belay system, lowering each other – and the members of Relentless – safely down a precipitous drop.

So too in the mountain bike and water disciplines. You need to be fairly competent on your bike and must certainly know how to safely cross a river, rescue a team-mate trapped in swift water and most importantly, be able to swim – whether to save yourself or another. Which brings me to the question of first aid…

It is now regulated that at least one person in each team must be first aid certified. But, what if something happens to that person? Would you know how to resuscitate a team-mate who has stopped breathing? Do you know what to do if they have an allergic reaction to a bee-sting or pass-out from dehydration? What if their lung is punctured by a rib following a fall off their bike? How would you treat a hypothermic team-mate?

Making certain that we are competent in the variety of disciplines and that we are able to take care of ourselves and our team mates -when far from official assistance – is vital… and it is our responsibility.

Author: Lisa de Speville