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Faulty rope led to amputation for outdoors instructor

Photo shows the site at Carroty Wood where outdoor instructor Josh Senior fell

A Southampton firm has been 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 (on 15 August) prosecuted the company for serious safety breaches at Southampton Magistrates' Court.

The court was told that Pfiefer Rope & Tackle Limited, 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.


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