Knotted & Dangling

by kfrego

The high scaling crew at Bath County used bars and tools to remove safety hazards from the high rock excavations. We operated our own informal school for new high scalers. Only people who requested to work on ropes were trained to high scale. Often people were refused for the school because of their attitudes and personalities. Walt Dzeima and I trained the scalers for our crews, but I was never much of a scaler. I got around on the ropes, but never got comfortable enough to dangle on the belt while working with both hands scaling. I always had to have that false security of one hand on the rope. The scaling ropes were one inch manilla rope with a wire core. Each scaler used two lanyards of the same type rope with a sliding knot for climbing or descending. We drilled and installed steel pins to anchor the ropes on top.

A young laborer from West Virginia had been scaling for several weeks at Portlock quarry after finishing training. Jeff wanted to be a scaler from the day he went to work on the project. He was a hard worker, got along well with everyone, and was always happy and smiling. I got a radio call just before lunch to go to the quarry.  The call didn’t reference any emergency, but wouldn’t have been made if something wasn’t wrong. Jeff was scaling about half way down an eighty foot rock cut working on a slab of loose rock. The rock could be wiggled from the top with the scaling bar, but was keyed in and couldn’t be pried loose. He used the six foot scaling bar to work along the sides and was making progress working it loose. Jeff worked down low on one side of the rock and got a good bite with his scaling bar. The rock was hanging precariously and nearly dislodged. He went to the opposite side and the rock started leaning out to fall. At the same instant Jeff’s scaling bar popped out of the joint in the rock. He swung like a pendulum on the rope right over the center of the leaning rock slab. As the rock leaned out and fell it shoved him away from the wall. The tip of the jagged rock raked and scratched his chest while tearing his shirt to pieces.  As the rock continued to lean out and fall it flipped him upside down and rotated him around his rope hook-up. He couldn’t get upright.

Everything appeared normal as I entered the quarry. The haul trucks and drills were all working normally and several scalers were on their ropes working. When in a position to see Jeff it looked like he was hanging unconscious. Walt was talking to a group of laborers not far from where Jeff dangled upside down. Jeff’s shirt was mostly gone and the blood from the cuts and scratches was dripping off of his neck. It took thirty minutes to send two scalers down to help Jeff. They got his legs untangled and straightened out his rigging. He descended under his own power and was only bruised.

We didn’t reprimand or lecture Jeff……… just made him spend a couple weeks flagging traffic.