The “Rules” in context
By Charl Rootman D720
The Basic Safety Requirements (BSR’s), “the rules”, were not put in place overnight. A group of “Skygods” did not sit around a table one night after a few beers thinking up ways of spoiling skydivers’ fun, and Voila! : “We have the rules!”.
The rules were developed and grew over years as reality necessitated. In the beginning, skydiving too, was “wild and dark”. Bad things started happening. PASA’s first BSR’s only consisted of a short few pages. But as activities developed and grew (eg. the introduction of RAM air parachutes, “piggy back” systems, new disciplines like wingsuiting) the need for regulatory guidelines increased.
No rules are “thought up” merely for the sake of setting new rules. Through various mechanisms trends regarding safety issues are usually noted, sometimes formally and systemic, sometimes more informally and ad hoc. In South Africa we have the Incident Report-system, as well as the safety structure through the Chief Instructors (CI’s), NSTO and the safety advisors. In most cases these safety issues that can potentially lead to incidents, injuries or death of skydivers, are put in place to prevent serious problems, preempting them. In some cases, sadly, rules are only put in place after the fact. (There is a saying that “the rules are written in blood”.)
Whatever the process, the rules are there to protect skydivers. Sometimes against external factors, sometimes against other people and sometimes even against themselves. We do not need something to go wrong, somebody to be injured or get killed as an aid for someone else to understand the reason for a rule.
But nothing is cast in stone. Circumstances change and sometimes new facts come to light. That is why old rules sometimes change. There is no rule that rules may not be questioned. If any skydiver believes with grounds that a rule should be changed or has no place anymore, he/she can start the process. But you will have to motivate fully why the existing rule is not applicable, inadequate or inappropriate. You need to state reasons and facts. If relevant, you should also clearly state how it should be changed or what should replace it, again with well-motivated reasons.
However, while the rules are in place they need to be applied and adhered to in full effect. No skydiver or instructor should decide which rules are ok and which not, which will be respected and which not. If you do not like it, change it. There is a process. In very limited instances written application can be made to the NSTO for a waiver to the rules, for his consideration. Again, there is a process. But in every other situation the rules should be applied as they are written.
It is very easy for anyone (any ordinary licensed skydiver, DZO, instructor, jumpmaster or even a CI) to slowly start operation outside the framework of the BSR’s. A jumper can jump with a reserve being a few days overdue without anyone knowing. A CI can allow two ISP progression jumpers to do a two way FS or AE jump. A Pro-rated jumper can do a display jump after having a beer or two. A DZO can allow jumpers to jump without being paid-up members of PASA. (Yes, all these things do happen!) One problem with this is that the parameters outside the BSR’s gradually start getting wider. The “grey areas” start getting larger and darker.
Mostly people get away with this because “nobody knows”. And of course, nothing major goes wrong. So people start thinking: So what? Nothing goes wrong. Do we really need the rules? And the grey areas grow.
The biggest problem starts when things do go wrong. And in our sport, unfortunately, this does happen from time to time. If this could have been prevented by following the rules, whoever allowed it is directly responsible for the result to the disadvantaged party. In case of a fatality there is always a formal SAPS inquest which is concluded in court. Sometimes there are insurance investigations, and families always ask many questions through many channels. And the media is all over everyone involved. If you always (Note: not mostly, but always) operate within the rules and nobody was negligent, you have little to be worried about.
However, if any was broken or bent relating to the incident, you will be in a heap of trouble and legal nightmares. Even if you were completely within the rules regarding the incident, but a lawyer argues that you “normally” ignore the rules, or that you ignored or negated the rules “on a few occasions in the past”, and the reasonable assumption can be made that you do not strictly enforce the rules. This does not only apply to fatalities, but any incident where somebody is injured or hurt.
In conclusion: The rules are not there to restrict or punish anyone. They are there to protect us: You, the ordinary jumper, the rating holders, the DZ and the association, PASA. If nothing ever went wrong, surely we do not need them. Unfortunately, this is not the case.