Roger's Center

Case study of the fatal fall at the SkyDome

by Ivan Kristoff

My business is far away from my past – industrial rope access work. In Canada, especially in its most high rise developed city – Toronto, every accident and fatality reflects on the industry. For me, as a volunteer rescuer, it reflects on my attitude to make improvements and apply the knowledge and experience to reduce casualties and loss of life. On the roads I saw young people die from other’s mistakes, on the ropes I rescued young people from their mistakes. So, the most efficient way it to prevent such situations from happening. In an industry that has no TV channels, magazines, even Trade Shows, the proper communication of Experience worth spreading is to share stories that can change attitudes. Attitudes toward responsibilities and the will to be more efficient in positive outcome.  One way to achieve that is to improve communication, were the lack of it or the misinterpretation of it can have fatal outcome. That is because we should be intelligent enough to learn from other mistakes, not just ours. Here is an example of such a case.

“Stuntman dies after SkyDome fall: An experienced stuntman who plummeted 10 storeys to the floor of SkyDome failed to make a complete check of his equipment before the fatal fall, the stunt organizer said Saturday. “He just neglected to do a safety check before his safety run,” said stunt organizer Stu Leggett. “It’s as simple as not putting a vehicle into park. It’s a simple omission,” said Leggett, who added that authorities hadn’t completed their investigation of the accident. Bill Muller, 25, was preparing Friday afternoon for a half-time routine at the next day’s football game between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders. But within seconds of beginning his slide down a line running from the huge Jumbotron scoreboard to the other side of the stadium, Muller fell about 40 meters to the playing field. He was taken to St. Michael’s hospital where he died Saturday of head injuries’ –  Canadian News Digest

This is the news about the tragic accident that occurred at the SkyDome on Saturday, Sept. 21, 1996. What caused this tragedy to happen? For sure, the news clips didn’t explain the true cause of this fatality and how this accident could have been prevented. As a matter of fact, this incident should not be called an accident, since accident is something that can not be predicted or happens in circumstances beyond our control. In this case, stuntman Bill Muller failed to inspect his entire anchoring system before commencing a horizontal progression on a Tyrolean Traverse from the roof of the SkyDome. The anchoring point attachment on the opposite side of the rope connection was not properly secured by passing the rope through a rappelling device and fixing it safely. Bill Muller neglected to inspect this side of the Tyrolean system and assumed that it was safe and sound. This negligence caused his life. The bad habit of neglecting safety point-checks in the vertical environment can endanger not only the life of the rigger, but also, the safety of others. The purpose of this discussion is to showcase to my new team members, an incident that can illustrate the consequences complacency and underestimating the potential danger of participating in special events, where the element of excitement overcomes the element of danger. The safety procedure for such system requires both sides of the horizontal rope line to be fixed to a strong anchoring point in such a manner that would allow lowering down to safety the stuntman, should any thing goes wrong.

The recommended safety rules include: – There should be a double safety line for additional protection. – Redundancy – all systems must be backed up. – Checking of systems – before putting a system into operation, complete checking of the entire installation is necessary. The cause of this fatality started with the omission of the very foundation of a safety plan. A technical demonstration or any type of rope access operation, starts with a Safety Plan, whether written or communicated by the organizer of the event. Their responsibility starts with outlining the scope of work, safety procedures, emergency and communications protocol, and most of all, discuss the potential dangers involved with the project. The responsibility of the team leader is to confirm that every member of his team has correctly understood every aspect of the scope of work. A safety plan outlines the standard protocol procedures and different scenarios of alternative measures when necessary. It must contain communication protocol for all participants, and provide them with better understanding of the typical rigging terminology and confirmation before engaging in a dangerous endeavor. Time and pressure before an exciting event are typical risk factors for High Angle Ropework demonstrations.

At my company principle # 1 for safety operations is “Never Assume!” This is where the responsibility lies with every participant in a risky endeavor. Every member of a rigging team has personal responsibility for his own safety and the safety of others to examine all aspects of the rigging and chain of connections in the entire system. A safety system is as strong as its weakest point. The stuntman must eliminate all potential hazardous materials. If they notice a potential danger in the scope of work, they should immediately alert other participants. A true team bond is when every member feels responsible for his team mates. That bond builds with time, but the above mentioned safety precautions are the basic foundations to prevent accidents. When communicating the plan, especially, where there is a group of people with different background, the same principle “Never Assume!” applies to avoid misunderstanding. A broken radio communication command of “Do not go ahead!” can be heard as “… go ahead!” Therefore, it is common sense before crossing the Point of No Return, to double check the rigging system visually, or confirm via proper communication protocol the status of the other side’s safety points.

The moral of this story is that people tend to develop habits with training and repeated motions over time. When they are put in an extreme situation or react under pressure, they usually don’t think thoroughly and rationally, but react by habit or instinct. The results can be fatal. To avoid fatal consequences, it is paramount to have Accident Prevention Program, and proactive approach of “accident prevention through proper training” and understanding of the potential danger.

Video from the roof and catwalk where the incident took place

SkyDome Final Home Game of the Toronto Argounauts during the  Official Delivery of the Ball with Ivan Kristoff/
October 26, 2001 

Опит, който си заслужава да се сподели

В Канада, особено сред най- развития град – Торонто, всяка злополука и фатален случай се отразява върху индустрията. За мен, като доброволец спасител. тя се отразява на отношението ми как да се направят подобрения и прилагат знанията и опита за намаляване на жертвите и загуба на човешки живот. По пътищата видях как млади хора умират от грешки на други, по земята и вертикала на високи сгради спасих млади хора,  които бяха изпаднали в критични ситуации пак заради грешки на други.  Така че, един от най-ефективния начин е да се предотвратяват подобни ситуации.

В една индустрия, която все още няма собствени телевизии, списания, дори Изложби, правилното предаване на опит си струва споделянето на истории, които могат да променят нагласите. Нагласи на хора към отговорностите и волята да бъдат по-ефективни в постигането на положителни резултати. Един от начините да се постигне това – е да се подобри комуникацията, при която нейната липса или неправилно тълкуване може да има фатален изход.