Have Standards, Don’t Cut Lanyards

“Cutting The Lanyard” Myth

In some industries the standard practice is to cut the patient’s lanyard once you’ve connected to them. By pulling as much slack out of the connection as possible, the shock to the patient from cutting the lanyard is usually quite small. At first glance this seems to be a pretty desirable solution. It is simple, fast, and requires a minimum of training. No need to rig up a lifting solution to raise the patient. That’s a good thing, right? Well, for all of the benefits, cutting the patient’s lanyard has some significant problems. For this post, we’ve teamed up again with our buds at Pacific Ropes so we can really get down to the nitty-gritty on this half-assed solution.

For starters, let’s refresh on what a pick off rescue is. There are several main types of rescues (learn about them in this killer post). A pick off rescue is one of the most robust. Pacific Ropes said pick off rescues allow you to get up close and help out your injured co-worker. Would you prefer to be lowered from a remote location with no assistance negotiating obstructions on the way down? (“Ouch, ooch, poke, it feels like bleeding…”), or would you prefer to have someone helping keep your body away from all those pointy… pointies.
A pick off rescue follow a few standard steps regardless of the situation:

  1. 1. Rescuer Descends/Ascends to patient.
  2. 2. Rescuer connects to patient’s harness using a pick off strap.
  3. 3. Rescuer removes patient from what they’re stuck on (most likely their fall protection lanyard).
  4. 4. Rescuer and patient descend/ascend to safety. In most cases you’ll be able to descend to safety. Ascending with a two person load presents additional difficulties.

A good pick off rescue does not include a knife

The Problems With Cutting The Lanyard as told by Pacific Ropes:

G-zuz. Where do we start? A great example of what not to do when rescuing a co-worker is good ole Goob. See HERE. With working at height we learn all about fall factors and shock loading. These are basic principles taught in fall protection, rope access, and rope rescue. What happens when you shock load your harness with the weight of another person?

Shock loading your system may have been the only answer back when we climbed dinosaurs to get fruit off of trees (wasn’t that a thing?), but in today’s age, we are lucky to have many options to prevent the cut, therefore preventing the dynamic loading. From the Rope Access and Rope Rescue world, cutting the lanyard is a desperate final attempt when all else fails. Fall Protection professionals teach a raise, disconnect, and lower technique to avoid any cutting and dynamic loading. Knives and rescues don't belong together.

If you get to this point during rescue training, you would most likely be excommunicated from the rope access or rescue team, and move on to teaching teens at a climbing gym. (We may have added a little drama to over emphasize the point). Save the knife for your arts and crafts, don’t bring it out in your rescue kit.

Warning: Not a pleasant video!

Alternatives For Disconnecting the Patient as told by Rope and Rescue:

The good news is that the alternatives aren’t nearly so complicated as they are made out to be. You will have to create some sort of lifting solution so that you can lift the patient a short distance. Once you’ve lifted them enough you can disconnect them from whatever they are stuck on.

Of course, there are a million and one ways to create the lift. Rope access technicians will nerd out over ways to lift a patient using unconventional techniques. But, you don’t have to get too creative since there are lots of great out-of-the-box solutions. The simplest is to have a mini haul kit like the Cortes 4:1. The haul kit will give you the mechanical advantage that you need to lift the patient.

Have some standards, don't cut the lanyards!!!


When thinking about your rescue plan: remember the Goob. Rescue doesn’t mean you have to take a fire/rescue course. Surprise! But it does mean you should risk assess the work location and provide adequate safe resources for the task. For your convenience, Rope & Rescue and Pacific Ropes carry various out of the box solutions!
Amy LavinHave Standards, Don’t Cut Lanyards

Comments 12

  1. Scott Brown

    Since I started climbing towers I was always told never to cut a rope or lanyard – we’ve always been taught to do a raise and then lower back onto the system or the rescuer. The potential for cutting the wrong line when you are stressed or for your subject to grab your hand while you have a knife in it is too big of a risk. If you are rescuing a recreational climber that has fallen on their rope it can be a little more difficult, they most likely are tied in with a figure-8 vs clipped in with a carabiner. So there is potential with a large enough fall that you might not be able to untie the knot and would have to do a cutaway on the pickoff.
    Scott Brown – sbrown.sar@gmail.com

  2. Tyler Perkins

    Very solid points and ones that should be SOP as is. The only thing that I would disagree with is recommending that you leave any cutting implement out of your rescue kit, as there is always a chance things could go wrong and you’d need one. I’d suggest something more along the lines of a rescue hook than a knife for numerous reasons. Benchmade is my go to.

  3. Tony Hobkirk

    For picking off a stranded subject, a cut-away is the last resort. A pre-rigged set of fours is a great tool to have in those situations. If you have to cut them away, a pull knife can add a measure of safety over an open blade.

  4. hank moon

    Tyler said: ” The only thing that I would disagree with is recommending that you leave any cutting implement out of your rescue kit, as there is always a chance things could go wrong and you’d need one. I’d suggest something more along the lines of a rescue hook than a knife for numerous reasons”

    X2. There is no good reason to not have a cutting tool available (whether part of the rescue kit, or not)

  5. Jacob Wallace

    Comment From Harrison Knox: Good article for sure. I agree that not cutting a lanyard in a rescue situation would
    Be ideal. Avoiding shock loading an injured person makes sense, and there is so much awesome gear to use for lifting these days. Every rope access crew should have multiple reuse plans for different scenarios . That being said, I’m still going to climb with a knife and keep one handy on the job site because they are handy as hell and you never know if you’ll have to cut a mofo haha.

  6. Owen Jones

    The cance of a catastrophic failure by cutting the wrong rope is far too great especially in poor conditions. There are many methods to raise a casualty, my personal preference is a some sort of counter balance. This works well because you only need a very small MA it is often possible with even just a 1:1 reducing the complexity of the rescue.

  7. Luis Cuevas

    I remember “old school” rescue instructors actively teaching us to cut the rope during pick offs. Actually, many people in the rescue world regard load transfer techniques as tedious and time consuming, I consider that mindset to be a product of lack of training.
    As instructors, it is our duty to provide students with options, however cutting the rope is taught in my FD as a last resort “when life is immediately at risk”.

  8. Luis Cuevas

    I like to remind students that ask about this decision, that “they will know when it is necessary”. Personally I had to make that call ONCE (a strong advocate of not cutting the rope) during a swiftwater rescue and both my life and the subjects were at risk.
    Be safe and Always carry a knife!

  9. Bud Gore

    Hey guys with all the great equipment and techniques available today there SHOULD be no reason to ever need to cut a lanyard or rope to transfer the load of a fallen worker or patient to your lowering system. With a properly set up pickoff system, I would challenge that you could transfer the load quicker than cutting a lanyard or rope. Especially when you take the time to double and triple check what you are about to cut (this time also includes the deep breath and wishing you had checked once more as you hear the sound of fibers in the lanyard popping from the slice of the knife). Shwww that was intense. I have to say though that while cutting a system away should be last resort I still think that carrying some type of cutting device is a must. It could be possible for a tool lanyard or piece of clothing to get caught in the event of a fall or misstep, and simply cutting that away could free a worker, if uninjured and able, to lower themselves to safety. But if no cutting devise is your style no worry, you will look like a total badass using your teeth. Stay safe and climb on friends.

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