Equipment liability?

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Equipment liability?

Postby Ron Fulcher » Oct 9, 2005 10:16 am

I am curious if any of you have some thoughts or experience with this issue. I began caving with only a flashlight. I then purchased a construction type helmet and fitted it with the a Petzel Zoom. I then purchased a Petzl Roc Helmet and used another Petzl light. Now a friend would like to go along and is willing to use my old construction type helmet setup to see if they enjoy caving before spending their own funds for what we would know to be safer gear.

1) Am I assuming a higher risk of liability by lending them this helmet?

2) What if the freind is 16 or 17 years old?

I know this subject was broached on the previous board but I am curious if any changes in law or possible court cases have arisen. In this actual situation my first judgement would be to give them the newest setup and work with the old gear and it was the example set for me by the first "professional cavers" I went into a cave with.

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Postby speloman » Oct 9, 2005 10:57 am

Good question. I will admit I basically started like you. Some head protection is better than none. But I would recomend a chin strap. I am asuming this is a pretty basic cave? Not a technical vertical cave. I would definatly start with a basic horizontal entracnce cave. Expecially if they have never been caving before. Now liability wise it is hard to say. In this sue happy world, people sue over every thing and anything. Not meaning to scare you. Age is also a question of maturity. I have seen some 14 year olds act more mature than a 16-18 year old. It is all in perception. I would actually recomend getting together with a local grotto. They most of the time have extra helmets and will teach many good caving habbits and experiances. (NOW DON"T GET ME WRONG I AM NOT SAYING YOU CAN"T PROVIDE THAT EXPERIANCE I AM JUST SAYING IT WOULD BE BETTER TO HAVE A FEW OTHER EXPERIANCED CAVERS WITH YOU) When I had friends that wanted to try caving that is what I always did I had got with my grotto and they provided them with a debriefing and training for the cave we planed to explore. I hope this helps alittle there are others out there who may beable to help better than I.
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Postby Ron Fulcher » Oct 13, 2005 2:14 pm

The first premise is more hypothetical but, I do appreciate your advice. You brought up a good point though, when you borrowed gear freom your grotto was it just construction helmets or did they provide you with the Petzl or equivalent? I try to not take too many folks into caves both due to conservation concerns and this very liability issue and the good lord knows I sure do hate vertical work. My question stems also from the plethora of caving books and guides that mention that the construction gear is not rated for even the basic horizontal situation.

Unfortunately accidents do happen and even though you may have someone sign a waiver, in reality the lawyers (in my opinion) would eat you alive.

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beginners and equipment

Postby mgmills » Oct 13, 2005 5:58 pm

DISCLAIMER - the post that follows is not consistent with most "recommendations" for caving equipment but it is a realistic post. When taking a "newbie" caving it is your responsibility to make sure they (and the parents if the person is a minor) understand that caving is not an inherently save activity.

I know several long time cavers who still use construction helmets with chin straps as their primary helmet. They have even outfitted their helmets with light mounts for carbide or wheat lamps. These are not vertical cavers - they strictly do horizontal caves.

I have taken several first timers caving with construction helmets outfitted with chin straps. I have a couple of helmets that I modified using 4-point chinstraps that I removed from bike helmets I found in a thrift store. I have also taken people caving with bike helmets. Keep in mind this is for basically easy horizontal caves. (I know easy is a hard to define concept.) On occassion, I have given my helmet to the newbie and worn the construction helmet myself mostly because I wanted them to be comfortable and enjoy the experience instead of fighting the ill fitting helmet.

I personally feel that a good light is the most important thing for a "newbie" - I sometimes give "newbies" my best light and use a lesser light myself.

Of course, I also will take people caving in cotton clothing and the forbidden "tennis shoes" in certain dry caves that I know very well. The bottom line I go by is never take a beginner to a cave you (or someone else in your group that you trust) is very familiar with. If you (or someone else) don't know what is around the bend you can't be prepared to deal with them.

Also, not all grottos have a "gear loan" program. I belong to several grottos and not all of them have "loaner" helmets and lights. Individual members however may offer gear loans on grotto beginner trips.

If a person wants to continue caving I would by all means recommend a "real" caving or climbing helmet for long term use.

Regarding recommendations in NSS & grotto produced pamphlets and books - keep in mind that pamphlets should err on the side of caution due to the fact that our society is so "law suit" happy. If you want to take someone caving and give them a construction helmet tell them the risk and mention that most "how to" books say that it isn't adequate and let them decide. . . or wear the inferior helmet yourself and give them your good one :lol:
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Postby Ron Fulcher » Oct 13, 2005 7:01 pm

My first experience with cavers from a grotto I was loaned the best the group had to offer. My family has a long history of mining limestone in West Virginia. I have lost two distant uncles to rockfall, one in an open faced quarry with 300 feet of vertical exposure. Hardy's death came very near the entrance of a cave I have mapped in and the entrance always shows signs of rockfall near the dug open entrance. The other was showing his family a scaling tower in a room and pillar mine where he had worked and as luck would have it a large rock cut loose at that moment and killed him as well. Neither was wearing a helmet, the results would not have changed if they had been. I have also seen some near disasters in caves with rockfall.
Once a gentleman knocked a thirty pound rock off of a ledge and on to himself, it fell from only 2 feet above him but, the petzl, though scarred, kept it from ripping his head open and the glancing blow to his shoulder convinced him to not go caving again. I spend most of my time mapping in virgin caves where years of travel have not caused most of these precarious stones to have been knocked down by previous visitors.

The first part and the last part of your post (Martha) are exactly why I would refuse to take someone in a cave in what would be determined to be inadequate protection. Especially children. Have there been any court cases related to equipment before? I added chin straps long long ago to the construction helmets but, I just cannot feel comfortable loaning or recommending their use. Most opinions of the construction gear seems to be the same, that they are only good for holding the lights and keeping you from bumping your head.

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Postby mgmills » Oct 13, 2005 9:03 pm

Ron, I agree that mines, quarries, and unexplored caves present a great risk of rock fall but I would not be taking a beginner caving in an unexplored cave.

I won't even enter a mine myself and am not overly fond of quarries.

The caves I visit with novice cavers are more like tourist caves without paved trails. Yes, rockfall could happen but the chances are not that great. I have witnessed a large chuck of rock fall once in a cave and if it had hit anyone they would probably have been dead with or without a helmet.

I have seen smaller rock falls in other circumstances but those were in tight spots where people were pushing on the rocks.

It is a personal choice we and those we take caving must make.

Now if you are talking about youth groups that is another "ballgame" entirely and I would treat that very differently than taking a friend of family member caving . . . but that's just me :)
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Postby Ron Fulcher » Oct 14, 2005 1:59 am

Hi Martha,

I took my family to Mammoth Cave two years ago and at the large junction just past the Historic Entrance the guide pointed out a large pile of rocks that came from the ceiling recently, it may have happened while a tour was in progress, but my memory is cloudy as to all the details. Suffice to say it was a thought provoking sight! Of course none of us were wearing helmets.

On another tour of Ohio Caverns in West Liberty, Ohio I bumped my head several times, again without a helmet. Last year my wife and I had the opportunity to visit a recently opened commercial cave on the Yucatan Pennisula of Mexico and surprisingly they made you wear a helmet (red construction) they even made you wear a life jacket if you wanted to swim in the 7-8 foot deep water. I believe it was a requirement of the cruise company and tour we were with.
The corporation saw the need for some type of basic protection and probably due to the liability issue.

I do have the availability of rental gear through the local grotto and they charge a rental fee for the use of the chin strap modified construction helmets and lights. My fear is that as an organized and experienced caving organization we are assuming a poor position if there is an accident.

This has probably scared some of them if they are following this by now. That is part of my intention but, I also believe that the availability of quality gear is also one of the strongest ways of "growing the ranks" and at the same time providing a much more enjoyable and safer experience for all involved!

Would you share these concerns? OR am I just giving my buddies a cruel halloween scare before they take a youth group out next month? There are pros and cons but, the pros far outweigh the cons and would set a much better example for the newest members of the caving family.

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Postby NZcaver » Oct 14, 2005 3:36 am

I've caved for almost two decades, and for more than half that time I used *only* a construction helmet (with a 3-point chin strap I added). :shock:

My original caving club in New Zealand has a bunch of construction helmets with chin straps and Premier cap lamps that they've been loaning out to new cavers for years - actually decades. There's never been a problem with this that I'm aware of. They have good chin straps, and are frequently used for vertical caving by adults and younger cavers alike. Of course, in New Zealand there isn't a lawyer lurking under every rock waiting to sue you... :roll:

I know, I know... construction helmets - aka hard hats - are designed to resist a blow from above, but not a side intrusion. But let's face it, a caving helmet's main job is to stop you bumping your head, becoming distracted, and then doing something that results in a real injury - especially when on rope. A construction helmet and a climbing helmet probably offer similar protection if falling rocks hit you from above. A blow from the side is most likely to be you hitting the rock, not a big rock hitting you. A properly-fitting construction helmet with chin strap should be adequate protection against that.

A good climbing/caving helmet does have advantages over a construction helmet though. They tend to fit more securely and comfortably, and have a lower profile on your head. The only disadvantage is cost. In the US it's not such a big deal, due to availability and the size of the consumer market. You can get a good helmet anywhere from about $40 to $80. In NZ, you can't touch one for much under $100. Between import duties and GST (sales tax), prices are horrific. I saw a Petzl Duo (non-LED) in a store there last year for $180!

Since I started using a *proper* helmet, I've never looked back. However, I've also helped on plenty of novice trips in the US where kids and adults alike have worn bicycle helmets or construction helmets. A couple of years ago, I purchased a set of 3 HB climbing helmets and 3 Petzl Zoom headlamps for my grotto to use as loaners. They cost the grotto about $180 all up, and there is no charge for their use (or any requirement for donations). Another liability thing, I believe. They recently added a child's size Petzl helmet to their loan department too.

I agree with previous posts that talk about making sure novice cavers have a positive first-time experience. If possible, and as applicable to the particular cave, this should include providing a comfortable helmet with chin strap (climbing or otherwise), and a good headlamp. It also means checking everyone has the appropriate clothing and footwear. 8)


>>>By the way, Martha made a comment about not entering mines. I guess in her region, like many regions in the US (so I'm told), mines are not too stable. Too much dirt, not enough solid rock - something like that, perhaps? I've only been in a few mines in the US, so I'm not really sure. The reason I'm mentioning all this is beacuse I spent years exploring abandoned mines - mainly relics from New Zealand's gold rush in the late 1800s. In fact, mines got me into caving.

In the past I've "discovered" a few unstable mines, and promptly exited them again. But I've been in a bunch more that have been fine, as long as one is careful and knows what to look for (a little like caving, really). I've been on rope in numerous mines, photographed them, mapped a couple, used some for rescue training, and even taken Scout groups through one or two. All I'm saying is that the "mine paranoia" exuded by many cavers in the US and other countries is perhaps not always justified. In fact, Joe Public in the US probably thinks "Stay Out, Stay Alive" also refers to caves... :wink:
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Postby speloman » Oct 14, 2005 4:02 am

I will say I have looked at many const hard hats (besides I have to wear one every day because I work for a mine) and it seems that it would provide the same protection as my Caving helmet Direction of impact wise. I do think that Caving helmets are made from much stonger material and will take a harder hit and are definatly more comfortable. If you get hit by a falling rock hard enough to crack or break your hard hat or caving helmet you are most likley to be on the way to the hospital for a possible C-spine fracture. Now I can't speak for others because some might have experianced differnt. But If I was called on a rescue where some one was hit or any trama in the head, shoulder area, etc. I would be placing c-spine immobilization on that Patient, for their safety. My thing with const hard hats the head band is really cheap. I have broken them by just putting it on but shoot if it breaks it is cheap to fix. It would suck if it broke in a cave. But My work hard hat a V-gaurd is basicaly the same fit as my Ecrin roc as far as I can tell. But all of our heads are differnt. It is not as comfortable though, I wish I could wear my caving helmet at work but I ain't going to ruin it there. I will wear it doing mine rescue or even training but mot wile working around fuel and climbing all over greasy trucks ect.
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Postby speloman » Oct 14, 2005 4:42 am

Here is kinda a example of what I was talking about. I am sorry for the poor quality photo I had to up size one

http://img414.imageshack.us/my.php?imag ... ats0lz.jpg

Sorry about the link I don't know how to put just the pic up yet :oops:
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