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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Keeping the reins on bungee jumping
The sport of bungee jumping
New Zealand is said to have a clean record on safety
Bungee jumping has been the pursuit of adventure sports enthusiasts and holiday daredevils for more than a decade.

In that time thousands of thrill seekers have happily thrown themselves off towering bridges and cranes, attached to a mere piece of elastic, in the name of charity or simply for fun.

The majority come away having experienced the adrenalin rush of their lives, but, as with all adventure sports, the risk of injury is always there.

Bungee jumper
It has become popular in the last decade
In rare instances a fun day out can turn to tragedy, as in the case of the man who fell to his death on Monday in front of a horrified Bank Holiday crowd.

Such tragedies force bungee companies, the sites who may hire them for a one-off event and relevant safety bodies to reassess the safeguards governing the pursuit.

Spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Kim Huggins says the authority lays down very stringent guidelines for any type of public event, but there are no specific rules for bungee jumping.

It is up to the relevant local council, and whoever is involved in running the event, to ensure there has been a correct risk assessment of the site and that bungee companies meet the relevant safety criteria, she says.

Safety record

The British Elastic Rope Sports Association (BERSA) also has a code of practice for bungee operators, developed in consultation with the HSE, but companies are not legally bound to follow it.

BERSA director Jeremy Gilder says the greatest risks occur when bungee operators "refuse to accept external and independent assessment of their procedures and equipment...and unannounced inspections of the site."

Training is also offered by the association, which covers the various skill levels needed in a bungee operation - from basic ground staff right up to "jump master" and site controller.

John Calverley, the chief safety officer for Staffordshire-based Bungee Extreme, says he has never heard of a fatal accident in the UK since his company started operating in 1993.

Since then, over 100,000 people have bungee-jumped with the company - which has no connection with the accident in South Wales - at more than 3,000 public events.

But in 1986 a member of the public rehearsing a TV stunt for Noel Edmond's Late Late Breakfast Show plunged 160ft to his death after the bungee equipment failed.

The BBC was fined for failing to take adequate safety precautions and the programme was axed.

'Human error'

The majority of bungee accidents occur because staff have not properly checked the equipment before a jump.

The authorities in South Wales, where the 22-year-old man fell to his death, will have to wait for a full investigation, but initial reports suggest the leg harness holding him may have come away.

To avoid such system failures, bungee firms use "multiple connections", so if a rope or harness gives way there will be another to take the strain.

BERSA also advocates the use of a full body mountaineering harness for jumps, although Mr Gilder says it is not unknown - and not illegal - for some companies to wrap two towels round a person's legs followed by a climbing sling.

Another key consideration is the type of rope used and the height from which people are allowed to jump.

Bungee Extreme says it always operates jumps from a set height of 200ft, with a braided rope system, to avoid the potential for error in weight calculation.

Injuries are usually just rope burns

John Calverley
Mr Calverley says: "The braided rope has built-in stops at different levels, so if there is a miscalculation the rope stops acting like a piece of elastic and becomes more like a climbing rope, stopping the jumper a safe distance from the ground."

If unbraided rope is used weight calculations have to be extremely precise and companies will also use airbags.

Anyone weighing between six and 26 stone can jump provided they are physically fit.


Mr Calverley dismisses reports that potential injuries can include a detached retina or blindness as "simply a myth".

Neither does he believe that tandem bungee jumps are any more risky, despite there having been a recent fatal incident in Italy.

A 25-year-old paratrooper and his 26-year-old fiancee plunged to their deaths in May, their harness having apparently come away from the bridge as they jumped into a gorge.

Tandem jumps do carry the risk of people becoming tangled up, but if all the guidelines are followed the risks are minimal.

"The vast majority of injuries are usually just rope burns as a result of friction on the way down," says Mr Calverley, who himself has done more then 200 jumps.

It remains to be seen whether bungee jumping operators will suffer a backlash as a result of Monday's tragic accident.

Novice charity jumpers may well give it a second or third thought before making the trip to the top of the crane, but seasoned jumpers are unlikely to be put off by what the industry regards as extremely rare accidents.

The BBC's Wyre Davies
"Eyewitnesses said the cord appeared to snap"
See also:

27 Aug 02 | Wales
05 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
20 Jul 01 | Media reports
09 May 02 | England
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