Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bungee accident - another wake-up call for many

Long weekend with friends. A young engineer wanting to experience the adrenaline rush. An ideal opportunity for the budding adventure industry in our country. Unfortunately it all took a horrible turn, ending in a fatal accident. Who is to blame?
The most obvious answer is the organiser of the reverse bungee event. Right of course. But I feel the buck does not stop there. There is a long list of people who have to accept a share of the blame. Its 'moral responsibility'.

1. Ministry of Sports - This is what the official website of the ministry has to say by way of its Policy for Sports.
Quote -
Adventure Sports, in particular, have great potential for the promotion of tourism. Towards this end, the concerned Ministries/Departments of the Union and State Governments, that is those handling Sports, Tourism and related subjects, will strive to draw up joint/unified Plans and Proposals for various parts of the country, with due reference to the possibilities in the North Eastern Region, and to execute these programmes in a systematic and coordinated manner.
Unquote -
Adventure sports have an integral requirement of safety. If the Sports Ministry's efforts towards "systematic and coordinated manner" in a metro like Bangalore are like this, what the case in NE states could be is anybody's guess.
2. Adventure Tour Operator's Association of India - Yes. Just in case you didn't know, there is actually a body like this. Once again, their official website says that they are committed to -

a) to strictly follow environmental practices,
b) employment of the local community
c) social responsibility of helping the community where ever possible in integrity, learning and employment with the help of adventure tours activities.
d) to bring professionalism in the adventure tour industry and foster fellowship and friendship among the professionals.
One of the objectives of the organization is - "To set up and maintain high ethical mores (sic) in the industry."
Outdoor and adventure industry is still an unorganized sector in our country. Anybody can get up, gather equipment, advertise on the net, and be free to take a group of gullible novices into the wilderness. There is nobody stopping anyone. Great for the entrepreneurial spirit and all that, but a disaster that is unfolding with every such event.

3. Instructors of the organising team - That is - CARE and Head Rush Bungee. (This happened with a company that calls itself Care - show me a bigger irony). The head is responsible as I have already said. But one person cannot monitor every little thing that is going on in every event. It is the responsibility of each instructor to uphold and follow safety standards. During the outdoor programs that I facilitated, I used to always admire the patience of the instructor who would put on the safety harness to each participant. Honestly, it can be a boring job. Imagine putting the harness on roughly 500 people a month (sometimes this number is much larger). For any such event, the participant could very well have been the 23,543rd person that the instructor was harnessing up. But for the participant, it was always the FIRST time. There is no scope of even an iota of negligence.

4. Local Police - It appears that the organizers had not taken any NOC from the local authorities. I don't need to say more.

5. Each layperson who goes to participate in an adventure event in India. How many of these people ask the relevant questions before paying to risk their lives? Do they ever ask for licences, testimonials, check on rescue and evacuation readiness? How many of these even bother to find out whether the organisers have a proper first aid kit? Having spent more than 25 years in the adventure world, I can confidently say that the proportion of 'safety aware' participants is abysmally low. A multinational FMCG company for whom I conducted several programs used to conduct a safety audit before every program. It was a document that ran into several pages. Guess how many questions were relevant to outdoor and adventure? One. JUST ONE, mind you. And it went something like this - "in case any outbound activities are to be done, have the relevant safety precautions been taken? - Y/N." This amounts to nothing actually.
I am reminded of an incident that I was witness to about 10 years ago. We were conducting an outdoor program in Savandurg (not very far from where the bungee accident occurred). One evening at about 7 pm, three youth came running to our campsite, breathless from a 45 minute downhill scramble. "One person from our team has had an accident, he has fallen down from a cliff, can you please help?" Six of us picked up our first aid kit, material to make a stretcher, and ran all the way up to the site of the accident. A 20-something youth lay on the hard granite slab below a 25-foot cliff. He was profusely bleeding and barely conscious. Our first fear was a back injury. This prima facie diagnosis was inaccurate, yet close. He had fractured his pelvic bone. We set upon the first aid and evacuation procedure. Mercifully, cell phones were working and Raju could call up a hospital in Bangalore and request the doctors to be on standby. It took us nearly two hours to lower him on a stretcher and send him off to Bangalore. He spent some weeks in the hospital and several more weeks on crutches, but survived to get back to rock climbing soon afterward.
This is what emerged when we reconstructed the event. This fellow (to be fair to him, he was an accomplished rock climber and well aware of safety procedures) took eight friends up to Savandurg for a day-hike followed by rappelling. There is no doubt about whether he knew how to conduct rappelling, that's ok. But the point to note is - he was the only instructor in the group. He gave a demo first, then got everybody else to rappel. As he was about to wind up, they asked him to give another demo. And that is when he took a fall.
He was fortunate that there were others around who knew what to do. But that doesn't absolve him of the basic mistake - of going alone with a bunch of novices. There are many others who have not been so fortunate.
This is not the first time that a fatal accident has happened due to negligence in a commercial outdoor event. I can mention a painfully long list here, but that's futile.
Can we all hope for more stringent standards?


Kadambari said...

This is unfortunate. There's definitely a need for stringent actions and I hope someone looks into this.

P.S. Looks like your blog page is all set. It looks great and the new tag cloud is brilliant.

Pushkaraj said...

Yes, I just keep trying. The MNC that I referred to my post, I offered that I will design their safety audit specially for outdoor programs. They said yes, of course. Then I waited and waited.....

About the blog layout, you are absolutely right. Yesterday I finally felt I need not tinker with it anymore. The technorati tag cloud has made me give up my wish of having a 'categories' widget. Now the only thing that I wish I can change is the 'Pick random post' link. I would rather have that as a button than just hyperlinked text. Don't know how to that yet.

Julia Scissor said...

Safety measures and regulations are a low priority in our everyday lives here in India.
Anyone used to the safety rules in the west would be aghast at the state of affairs here. More than one person riding pillion on a bike, no safety devices installed for children and infants in cars, people using the phone while driving, badly maintained buildings et al. The person speaking on the phone while crossing busy roads don't even think they are lucky to have lived to make another call. It's the apathy towards safety in general that's the root cause of such accidents.

Pushkaraj said...

Safety regulations are NO priority, not just low priority. Forget talking on cellphone when driving, I even know a friend who had accident when he was reading the message on his pager! (This was about 15 years ago, the day when pagers were still in.) Now, I just fail to understand then as to why he couldn't stop by the side and read the message. The message cost him few thousand rupees, loss of work for weeks and walking on crutches for months. Rather expensive message it proved to be....

Pushkaraj said...
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