While working on my mom’s Texas Hill Country property last November, I met her handyman, John, who does odd-jobs for her and helps her maintain the place. He even spent a day cutting down Mesquite trees with me while I was there. He’s a young guy, very nice, and an avid hunter.
In exchange for the work John does for my mother (and because he’s such a good guy), she allows him to keep his own deer feeder and tree stand on her property.
One day, when we were nearing the end of our work, John asks me if I want to check out his deer stand.
“Of course,” I say, and we walk a few hundred yards down towards the Guadalupe River.
We come to an old pecan tree, where he attaches a 20 foot access ladder to a tree stand. The tree stand includes a seat hovering 25 feet off the ground. Climbing into the perch isn’t easy.
“Are you bow hunting?” I ask.
“Yes,” he replies.
We talk for a while about line of sight for shooting from the stand relative to its proximity to the feeder. Then I ask him how he is handling the safety aspects of sitting in the deer stand. He confidently remarks that he has no intention of falling.
He has been hunting in deer stands like this since he was a kid and has never used any safety equipment.
“It’s always the best swimmers that drown,” I tell him.
I can tell John isn’t interested in my safety pitch, which reminded me of myself before I started working in the safety industry. For my part, once I started reviewing and documenting all the injuries and fatalities that come with the job, it certainly changed my outlook on the need always to use fall protection.
We had a half a mile walk back to my truck, so I use the time to tell him about my co-worker’s husband Sam. While hunting in Ohio in 2014, Sam fell from his deer stand, a similar setup as John’s.
While taking down his tree stand 35 feet above the ground, Sam, like John, had also grown up hunting in deer stands since he was a kid and had executed this activity hundreds of times. He had his safety harness on as he climbed up the tree. When taking the stand down, however, Sam can’t quite reach the top of the stand to unhook it from the tree. So, to detach the last bolt, he moves around one of the tree limbs that is blocking his path. But Sam makes a crucial mistake. He unhooks his safety harness to get around the limb.
A couple seconds later, he is on the ground. His dog may have saved his life as he remembers waking multiple times from unconsciousness to his dog’s whining and licking his face. When he finally returns to full consciousness, he’s unable to walk and has to crawl about 100 yards just to get to his 4-wheeler. It takes him 4 hours before he reaches the ATV.
He breaks both of his wrists and his bones protrude askew as he pushes himself up onto the 4-wheeler. About a half mile down the road, he finds a neighbor and solicits his help. Sam is taken by helicopter, or Life Flighted, to Grand Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Among the injuries he suffered are lacerated spleen, severe concussion, 2 broken wrists, crushed left hip, 2 fractured lower vertebras, and 2 fractured upper ribs. He spent 10 days in the trauma unit. It has been a long process but finally he is recovering.
Sam says his goal is to encourage anyone who will listen to always use fall protection and never disconnect the lifeline from the harness.
I explain to John that I just want to alert him to the dangers of being in that tree stand without a lifeline. He probably was surprised when I tell him he is required to use fall protection when hunting from tree stands on this property.
When we get back to my truck, I pull out my sample kit and give him a 6-foot lanyard, full body harness, and cross arm strap. I like the cross arm strap because it is the easiest and safest to wrap around the tree in the deer stand. The 6-foot lanyard allows clearance distance to protect its wearer from hitting the ground during a potential free-fall. The body harness is sufficient to hold a person in the event of a fall.
The next morning, we head back to the tree stand and I show him how to use the safety equipment properly.
Fall protection always is required when working (or playing) at heights with specific products for specific purposes. Fall protection for recreational activities like rock climbing and hunting is often designed for a specific use and may be different from industrial and construction fall protection.
Understanding which equipment is best used in specific circumstances is critically important. The hunting anecdote serves as a great example of the importance of using fall protection even during recreation activities, particularly when hunting from tree stands. This goes for all circumstances where a person is working or playing at heights.
With our instant access to information, with a minor amount of research, it’s easy to determine which products are correct for their specific applications. It may be surprising to some, as it was with my friend John, that there is a Tree Stand Manufacturing Association (TMA) that devotes its resources to promoting tree stand safety. For more information go to http://www.tmastands.com/).
The bottom line is that selecting the right fall arrest equipment is critical when working at heights for work or play, second only to being trained on its proper use. Remember that when a fall occurs, injuries often are the direct result either of failing to use, using improperly, or using the wrong fall protection equipment.
Ken Hebert Bio
Ken Hebert is the Co-Founder and National Sales Manager of Malta Dynamics. Customer-focused professional who has spent over 20 years marketing in the safety and training industry. For questions concerning technical safety issues or about Malta Dynamics products, Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.