An investigation following the death of an Exum Mountain Guides staff member this summer leads to two citations and a hefty fine of $7,350 for the Wyoming based company. On July 23rd, 2016 Gary Falk fell to his death during the down climb of a guided trip on the Grand Teton. Park rangers believe that during a rappel procedure the knot in a loop made of nylon webbing, which was Falk’s connection to an anchor, failed causing the guide to fall over the cliff.
“Many of the employers in Teton County come across hazards that are more unpredictable than those found in more traditional work settings. Teton County is unique in many of those circumstances.”
–John Ysebaert, Administrator of OSHA’s Office of Standards and Compliance
According to the Grand Teton National Park’s accident report, Falk was retrieving a piece of equipment by hauling it up the cliffside with a belay rope when it caught inside a crack. As Falk attempted to free the gear from the crack the knot came undone on his loop releasing him from his anchor and causing him to careen over the cliffside. The loop is a personal piece of equipment Falk had tied and used many times during mountain expeditions.
Due to the results of this investigation, Exum Mountain Guides has been sited for two violations. The first violation was a failure to perform and document an annual review of their climbing guides’ personal safety equipment, which is required by Wyoming’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Although the specific piece of equipment which failed belonged to Falk and must be inspected regularly by the guide, it also must be inspected and approved that it meets OSHA’s standards each year.
The second violation was a failure to properly inform and train each guide of how to avoid biological hazards, such as bodily fluids, in the event of an injury or accident in the mountains. Wyoming OSHA fined Exum Mountain Guides $7,350 for the two citations. Unfortunately, these incidents occur occasionally and require very close scrutiny due to the bureaucracy and fragile nature of the situation, but the man who paid with his life paid the most.