Today I read a salutary reminder that what we do is not risk free in the following post by Midori:
I’m not qualified to make any comment on the specific incident. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know anyone involved.
The message I take from it is that risk is ever-present in bondage (as in any other physical activity) and that we must do our best to think about those risks, and the potential consequences if something were to go wrong.
So it is a timely reminder to review our safety procedures on Restrained Elegance shoots.
It is also a call to urge other riggers, producers, models, players and participants to take an hour to do a simple risk assessment of their bondage activities.
Although most bondage websites are too small-scale be to legally required to do so, the recommendations of the HSE are a good way to start. Even if we only carry out the steps mentally (which I’ll admit is all I’ve done up until this point).
I’m not an expert. But that’s the point, the HSE advice is targeted at non-experts who have to assess everyday risks. I’m going to try doing a risk assessment. I’ll concentrate on risks to the bound model, but of course there are wider issues (trailing cables, lights, walking backwards over a cliff whilst taking a photo...) for other participants too which I should flesh out in a second draft.
I’d like to emphasise strongly that this is me doing a first draft and going through the process, in public. The important thing isn’t to follow we what do, but to think about it.
As the fiancee of a bondage model I’d be so much happier if all producers went through a basic risk assessment procedure for their own shoots. PLEASE DO SO!!!!
The life of the lady I love is in your hands. Quite literally, especially in the case of suspension, but also even in the most ordinary of bondage shoots.
So I’d really appreciate it if we all took the opportunity to go through a basic risk assessment process for our shoots and think if there are things we should do differently. A few incidents I know about have made my hair stand on end, and Midori’s post shows that even a very experienced rigger who has suspended people thousands of times is not immune to risk or to making mistakes.
Please pause to consider what risk you may be placing your model (who might just be my fiancee) in, and whether there are simple ways to reduce the risk and mitigate the potential consequences if something did go wrong.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE HAZARDS
Let’s have a go. It’s not exhaustive but the most obvious ones are:
1)Tripping or falling, which is much more likely and possibly more severe when someone is bound.
2)Damage from too-tight bondage on the wrong places (nerve damage, strangulation, cutting off blood supply, rope or metal cutting in).
3)Choking, especially if gagged.
4)Dislocation, an added complication to the falling risk.
5)Suspension, which multiplies all the above risks considerably because of the extra weight, extra height and extra helplessness.
6)The presence of hot lights, heavy lighting rigs, electrical cables especially if suspended above the model or near her.
7)Neck damage. Anything anywhere around the neck, especially if it is attached to something else (like a yoke, or a fiddle, or a collar on a leash) has the potential to get fatal, possibly instantly, if something goes wrong. We should flag that up for especial concern. A trip is bad, a trip with a potential broken neck is something we need to remove as a possibility.
8)Overheating from any sort of mummification.
9)Fainting. This one is rare (has happened twice in over 500 shoots, but that’s often enough to really need to consider what would happen if she were to faint).
10) Getting cold which can increase other risk factors.
11) Poor communication. I also include broader issues like the possibilities of models “not say anything even though it was getting uncomfortable because I don’t want to be a diva” and riggers and photographers not telling the model what to expect.
12) I’ll presuppose existing good practice- safe, sane, sober, consensual. Obviously, allowing someone drunk or intoxicated onto set is a no-no but it isn’t something which happens at our shoots. If you like to play after a glass of wine or two, your risk assessment should probably include some consideration of it.
13) Whipping the model with the rope ends or giving her friction burns as you tie/untie. A relatively minor one, but one which is a possibility with every tie.
14) Not being able to get someone out in a hurry if you do need to.
15) Fire and burn danger especially if using hot wax.
16) Harm caused by nipple clamps (reapplication is bad, clamps sliding off is bad)
STEP 2: DECIDE WHO MIGHT BE HARMED AND HOW
1)The model, who is obviously most at risk from these hazards. It is her risks we’ll focus on for this first draft as the person most likely to be at risk, and most likely to be in a situation where she may be unable to help herself.
2)The photographer, who is also capable of walking backwards into a hot light, or tripping.
3)The rigger, if present.
That’s obvious, so let’s concentrate on the model.
STEP 3: EVALUATE THE RISKS AND DECIDE ON PRECAUTIONS
There’s a misconception about health and safety law. The law recognises that there are risks which cannot be eliminated. Your responsibility is to do everything “reasonably practicable” to protect people from harm. The HSE say:
Can you get rid of the hazard altogether?
If not, how can you control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
A good place to start for your own shoots is “current practice”. Google “Bondage Safety”, or look at the Restrained Elegance basic bondage safety page, follow the links on that page to more comprehensive documents as well:
Reading back through that document, which I wrote a couple of years ago, I’m pleased to note that I mention many of the hazards I identified above. Our “safety culture” on RE shoots includes a fair bit more “folk wisdom and current practice” which I ought to get around to writing down more formally to make it easier for us to look through it.
I don’t want to go through all the above risks, this is a long enough blog post already. Let’s just look at a few illustrative ones, starting with a simple one.
Whipping with rope ends and rope burns
We’ve got to tie and untie models, so we can’t eliminate the risk. But we can surely control them.
Good working practice when untying someone greatly reduces the risk of giving someone a rope burn or hitting them in the eye with the rope ends. Put your own fingers behind the rope when you undo it, so you can feel any heat generated and protect their skin. Do it slowly and carefully, and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of whipping with the ends too.
Unrigging in a calm, unhurried manner reduces this risk so we probably don’t need protective goggles for model or rigger. That might have been necessary had ropes flying around at great speed been essential to the procedure. But it isn’t: we can just slow everything down. Maybe get the model to close her eyes or have someone else shield them if the ropes are near her face.
What can we do about some of the others?
Nothing should be so close to the model that she might roll into it or pull it down onto herself. Any light up high should have a wire safety cable to a secure point just in case the mount slides off an inadequately tightened spigot. We can’t eliminate the need for hair-lights, but we can make sure that if they do slip off the spigot, they get held by the safety wire.
Let’s take a look at the serious bondage-specific ones.
The neck issue is probably the most frightening. That’s the sort of thing that can take a minor incident and turn it into a fatality. So we just plain don’t do ties where there’s ropes up near the neck; anything going either towards the front or back of the neck has to be tensioned down to something like a chest harness or under arms so it can’t ride up.
If there’s anything like a collar attached to a chain, the chain has to be PLENTY long enough to reach all the way to the floor without putting pressure on the neck area, and should be checked for snags or places it could catch. In fact, maybe we should consider bungee or easily-snappable elastic bands or something as the final attachment of such a leash to the wall or ceiling point, so there’s something with lots of give in it should there be a sudden jerk.
It has only recently occurred to me that the yoke is also a neck danger if someone were to trip. I’m not sure what to do about that one yet. So I’d better restrict it to positions on the ground or on a bed until I’ve thought more carefully about it.
Given the unfortunate incident which prompted this post, let’s look at suspension. That’s another one with clear danger of death or serious injury. All manner of issues here. You could eliminate the risk by not doing suspensions. But what if you love them and want to continue? How might we control the risks?
1)Make sure the suspension point is really sound. Ours is a very sturdy welded steel U-plate with two large bolts through a floor joist, so the basic point is probably sturdy enough to suspend a mini from. That is a single point of failure, but if it fails, the house is probably falling down. I have some concern about the winch and pulley system, which has a lot of single points of failure, so I’m considering backing them up with a climbing sling around the U-plate with carabiners clipped in to the suspension ropes. It would have to be done once the model is already up in the air, but it does provide backup to the whole winch system, so I should probably do it.
2)Consider crash mats. I should buy one as hitting a mat is definitely better than hitting a hard floor and we could totally buy a white one which will sit nicely in our cove and can be propped up against the wall when not in use.
3)No suspension tie with a single point of failure. It’s just not worth the risk if a rope slips, if that’s the only support. It may be less stylish, but spreading the load between many ropes is just safer.
4)Be extremely careful of anything inverted. In fact, I don’t think I will do inverted suspensions again, I’m not happy with the risk tradeoff. Certainly not until I have crash mats and backup slings in place.
5)Consider whether a tie can just as easily be done with hands in a position where the model can use them to protect herself to some extent, should something go wrong. Falling onto your arms isn’t good, but falling onto your face or neck is a lot worse.
6)Do the tie on the floor and winch up slowly, assessing the safety and comfort when the model is 6 inches rather than 6 feet in the air.
7)Rig anything that can be a semi-suspension as a semi-suspension. If the model can get a foot down, and control it herself, everything is safer.
8)There’s a reason we’re now doing suspensions in a white infinity cove- once you get high enough up that the model’s hair doesn’t touch the floor, it properly looks like she is suspended in infinity space. This can often be done only two or three feet up. Falling three feet could still be serious but falling six feet is far worse. We can make it look maximally dramatic with minimum height.
Trips, Falls, Faints, Dislocations and Face Planting
Just for a moment imagine standing up straight, holding your hands behind your back, and deliberately leaning forward until you fall flat on your face, onto a hard floor. Would you be willing to do that? No? Me neither. So we’d damn well better figure out ways to minimize the chances of our model doing it.
Thankfully, we’ve had very few accidents at shoots in the 11 years we’ve been going. The two or three which have really put the wind up me have been falls.
One was caused by mis-communication: I was going to lower a model on to the floor from kneeling, whilst tied. she let herself go before I was ready to take her weight, and I just couldn’t catch her from the position I was in. She hit the ground with a thump, knocked the wind out herself but fortunately no harm done, but that could have been nasty if she’s properly face-planted.
The second was caused by a pregnant model (who had not told me she was pregnant) who fainted in the bondage. She was wearing a steel collar with a chain the ceiling. Fortunately, she was supported by her wrists, and there was a reasonable amount of slack on the chain but that one still gives me nightmares which is why I am quite so uptight about anything around the neck. I also now decline to shoot with pregnant models. I accept one could possibly do bondage safely with them by being very careful, but I prefer to eliminate that risk completely.
The risk is dislocation if a slip or faint happens is one I feel is often not considered seriously enough. For example, a strappado tied with no chest/waist harness to take the weight were she to slip, fall or faint would turn a minor slip into a potential shoulders-wrenched-out-of-sockets incident.
It probably looks fine, the model will assure you she’s OK, but just consider what would happen if she DID slip or faint, and you’ll see the value of having ropes to take the weight in extremis.
We used to tie unsupported strappados until we did one outdoors on uneven ground and Ariel correctly realised it was a serious accident waiting to happen. Having realised the potential for damage, we now only tie supported strappados. It doesn’t change the look of the tie THAT much, and seems like a very worthwhile trade-off to eliminate the dislocation risk.
I think a lot of people are aware of the dangers of nerve damage, choking and so on- these are discussed at length in bondage safety web pages so all we need to do here is follow good practice and have good communication on set.
Actually, the single biggest improvement for safety probably comes from having an extra person present. This is why I always try to shoot with another person these days. (It also helps productivity and gives me a rest instead of the day being absolutely non-stop). The best way to forestall the “what if the photographer faints/knocks themselves out/has a heart attack” concern is to just make sure another person is present... or at least in earshot.
I know that’s not always possible; if it isn’t, we should consider leaving a phone inside the model’s reach.
In fact, I just asked Ariel to change her current practice when rigging on shoots for me and stay in the room while I’m shooting the set; she usually goes out but stays in earshot. It might feel a bit awkward to have another model on set looking at the girl in bondage but I think the safety advantages of the rigger constantly monitoring the safety without the distraction of looking through the lens outweigh that.
STEP 4: RECORD FINDINGS AND IMPLEMENT THEM
We’re meant to do this in a simple way. We’ve already got a set of working practices for RE which the crew all know. So rather than list everything we do from square one, I’ll list the things in this review that are new for me (and memo myself to do a proper “safety bible” writeup for ourselves sooner rather than later).
1)Existing injuries: make sure to ask at the start of the shoot. We usually do this anyway, but it needs to be done every time, as part of a general introduction for the model into safety at the shoot.
2)Ensure that EVERYONE knows how important it is to communicate, and do so in good time. It is much better to stop and re-rig or rethink than have to cut someone out in a panic. Emphasise how important this is to every model, especially new ones, and make sure to thank and praise them when they do so.
3)Good practice: before you start each rig, pause a moment to evaluate the safety implications, especially the most serious ones: can she fall, what if she faints? Can anything damage neck, head or dislocate anything? If so, change the position, change the rig, add extra supporting ropes or just plain do something else. Needs to be done for metal bondage (eg yoke) as well as rope.
4)I should write up our oral culture “safety practice” so we can update it and review it.
5)I should distill the essentials of the safety practice for the short introductory chat we have with every new model when they arrive.
6)Eyes-on: make sure the rigger stays on set to be a safety monitor during the tie; ask all the riggers to do this.
7)Suspensions: winch failure. Add a backup sling system just in case.
8)Suspensions: buy a crash mat.
9)Suspensions: hands. Rig so hands can be used to partially protect self in case of a fall, just in case.
10) Suspensions: tie anything which could be a semi-suspension as a semi-suspension, so the model can control when she is off the ground.
11) Suspensions: no inverted suspensions until new slings/mats in place, and possibly not even then. Suspensions are risky, but a lying-down one three feet above a crash mat is a lot safer than an upside-down one six feet up over a concrete floor.
12) Yoke: be much more mindful assessing trip/fall risks. Consider limiting to floor/bed positions only until properly thought through.
13) Go over safewords with new models, especially if gagged. Demonstrate “cut” as safeword so we hear it and she knows it.
14) Only rig strappado if there are supporting ropes to take weight just in case she were to slip or faint.
15) Consider use of bungee or low-breaking-point material like elastic band for anything where a neck chain or similar fastening to a wall is used and there’s potential for neck or dislocation damage.
16) Buy anti-trip covers for studio cables on floor.
17) Consider banning drinks from the studio entirely- there’s no reason they can’t be kept in the kitchen out of the way of hot lights and electricity with a bound girl on the floor.
18) As we have done already, have a separate rigger wherever possible.
19) If we must do solo shoots, put a phone inside the models’s reach (as well as the keys)
I hope the above doesn’t come across as preachy, holier-than-thou or “we’re safe, everyone else is dangerous”. The important thing isn’t to blindly follow someone else’s rules. It is to DO THE RISK ASSESSMENT YOURSELF, FOR YOUR SHOOTS. Consider what COULD happen if a rope were to slip, or a model to faint. You might just break out in cold sweats realising what would happen if something did go wrong. So TAKE SENSIBLE PRECAUTIONS by changing the way you shoot, or the way you play, for the better.
STEP FIVE: REVIEW YOUR RISK ASSESSMENT AND UPDATE IF NECESSARY
As I hope I’ve shown, it isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do it. Just think about it every so often, and revisit it in light of experience.
Situations change, you do more interesting stuff, or push the limits, or realise something is riskier than you’d thought initially.
Go back and review it every so often.
I’ll do my very best to look after people who come to work with me, too.