Facility Based Climbing Wall Initiative

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In our history, the predominant cause of loss for climbing walls located in branch facilities has been lack of control – there were no attendants, attendants were not actually supervising the activities, or attendants were insufficiently trained to supervise the activities. The following guidelines are highly suggested for all branch-located climbing elements.


Administration

  • Have a written policy manual that includes:
    • Job descriptions with specific demonstrable qualifications for staff and volunteers in the areas of:
      • climbing and belaying skills
      • training competence
      • supervisory abilities
    • Documented training and skill testing for all staff and volunteer positions
    • Training protocols and documented skill testing for climbers, boulderers, and belayers (i.e., all patrons)
    • Rules for climbers, boulderers, and belayers that specifically address
      • requirements for access and use
      • behavior on and around the wall
      • required protective equipment
    • Internal audits of operations by the on-duty supervisor or other qualified individuals who are not actively supervising the climbing wall, i.e., frequent quick checks that evaluate the
      • ratios of staff to climbers
      • supervisory effectiveness of the facilitator
      • belaying techniques of the belayers
      • actual knots on the individual climbers
  • Employ a positive means of securing the wall from unauthorized use when not supervised, e.g., have it in a separate, lockable space or have a means of blocking access to the lower components
  • Utilize a specific waiver that is signed by or on behalf of all users that clearly explains the inherent dangers of climbing, accepts responsibility, and holds the entity and its staff harmless
    • A good waiver helps set expectations and acts as a deterrent to legal action
    • However, even a strong waiver can neither replace appropriate supervision nor correct inappropriate supervision – if this experience is to be offered it should receive commitment and resources similar to that aquatics receives

Personnel

  • There should be an on-site, on-duty supervisor who is locally available whenever the climbing wall is open
    • This should be a supervisory function without regularly scheduled direct involvement. Similar to a head lifeguard or aquatic director whose job is mostly to supervise and monitor, this person should be qualified to assist as needed.
    • The individual should be trained according to an appropriate specific curriculum established by a qualified outside vendor (QOV) that meets the certification qualifications for one of the following: Climbing Wall Association (CWA), Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA), or Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT)
    • The individual should be required to pass annual written and proficiency tests
    • The individual should be capable of training and certifying climbing wall facilitators
  • There should be multiple climbing wall facilitators
    • Facilitators’ duties include climbing wall supervision, belaying, monitoring, each-use equipment-inspection and log entry, and teaching of both belaying and climbing skills;
    • Facilitators should have a thorough working knowledge of the knots and equipment used
    • Facilitators should be trained to a specific curriculum established by a QOV with annual written and proficiency tests (which may be administered or overseen by the on-site, on-duty supervisor)

Elements and Equipment

  • Element (i.e., the wall) design and construction, including additions, should be completed by
    • A QOV or
    • Staff or volunteers
      • to the specifications of a QOV
      • with QOV verification that both design and construction comply with the QOV’s plan
  • Equipment (harnesses, ropes, fittings, etc.)
    • Should be of the quality specified by the QOV
    • Should be individually identifiable; each should have its own use and inspection log (or its own individual column in a common log)
    • Should have clear and unambiguous replacement / retirement criteria
      • based on time and use
      • with over-riding poor-condition disqualifiers
  • A written annual inspection should be required.
    • It should be completed by
      • a QOV or
      • staff or volunteers utilizing a clear, self-explanatory checklist created by a QOV
    • It should include the element(s) and all equipment, each item of which is individually identifiable
    • There should be documented record of repair for all identified deficiencies (whoever does the inspection)
  • Control of the element(s) should include:
    • Staffing as follows (their qualifications and training are described in PERSONNEL above)
      • an on-duty supervisor physically present in the facility
      • one or more facilitators at the element, depending on the equipment in use, the facilitator’s experience, and the activity, attendance, skill levels of patrons
    • Preventing accessibility when the element(s) is(are) not open and directly supervised by:
      • locating the element(s) in a locked room or area
      • blocking, disabling, or removing access to the lower portions of the element(s) such that use is prevented
      • locating the element(s) in a very public area that is directly and constantly observable and easily controllable by staff
    • Providing on-going facilitator training and drills that sharpen and hone their skills, similar in nature to aquatic in-service training
    • Employing testing and marking protocols for all users so that the qualifications of climbers, boulderers, and belayers can be quickly, easily, and accurately determined (e.g., a colored flag or wide ribbon that is pinned on each climber’s back showing skill level)
      • those who cannot pass the skills test must climb under the direct supervision of a staff member
      • it might be best if a record were kept to reduce retesting for repeat guests
    • Consistently using access protocols that include:
      • Orienting the climber to the element – regardless of experience of the user
      • Verifying the climber’s skills by testing (or consulting maintained records for older climbers)
      • Inspecting all equipment, including checking every knot

Facility-based climbing walls have been the source of many significant injuries – in our history most have been related to some form of inadequate supervision. Facility staff has historically not been as familiar with the process or equipment as their counterparts in the camp setting and controls have not been as stringent – this must change! The exposure for harm is the same wherever the climbing walls are located. Moving climbing walls from camp to facilities was a great idea because it made the experience accessible to many more kids and adults. Don’t let a great idea become a bad decision by approaching the experience casually – be diligent to protect those you serve.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about JCC risk management issues.

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