Zip-Line Slides and Horizontal Gliders
Zip-line slides, also called cable-trolley rides, are simple, inexpensive-to-install pieces of playground apparatus that are found in many recreational environments. Historically they have been located mostly in a more isolated camp setting, but they are now often found in a county or municipal park, on a school playground, and even on the premises of facilities such as yours, sometimes in the more sophisticated form of a horizontal glider. These minimal pieces of equipment offer an enormous amount of potential fun. They also offer an equally enormous amount of probable injury. Frequent and often severe injuries result: some arise from physical defects, more from user incompatibility, but most result from inadequate supervision.
The following list depicts the four avenues of potential loss that must be thoroughly considered and adequately addressed to provide an acceptable zip-line experience. All are important, but laxness in the area of supervision will completely negate even stellar work in all the others.
Areas for Potential Loss
Adequate consideration and selection of the site and physical components
Proper and substantial cable anchoring and resilient surface preparation
Documented, regular, and responsive; includes documented inspections
Ownership, operation, participants, monitoring
The following basic physical components and potential defects are part of the safety equation in the maintenance of zip lines and supervision of usage.
- Improperly installed post, posts, or arch; vertical member not deep enough in the ground, not set in concrete, and/or not adequately braced
- Inadequate mass or holding potential of other support to sustain the forces contemplated, e.g., too small a structure, too small a tree, etc.
- Inappropriate condition of support, e.g., damaged post, unhealthy tree or root system, deteriorated structure, unstable ground around the post, etc.
- Inadequate material, size, or strength rating for the forces and elements contemplated
- Anchors mounted in such a way that normal flexing of the system will either allow the anchor connection to work free or cause damage to the support or anchor point
Cable and Cable Installation
- Insufficient strength rating for the potential load
- Inadequately anchored or connected
- Too high above the ground; norm is approximately 72" above grade
- Excessive slope on the cable from starting to ending positions
- Inadequate cable arc to ensure self-stopping (i.e., low point of cable arc not low enough with respect to end point to prevent riding to cable end)
- Cable is frayed or otherwise damaged
- Inadequately guarded rollers that could injure fingers of the participant or supervisor
- Loose assembly or mounting bolts
- Worn or defective roller(s)
Handle, Peg, or Seat
- Peg or seat design encourages the rider to jump off rather than disembark after the motion has ceased (note: this excludes handles, they are designed for jumping off while the ride is in motion)
- Handle, peg, or seat is insufficiently attached, either caused by design or wear
Starting Point or Platform
- Starting platform is excessively elevated (i.e., is so high a fall would cause injury)
- Starting platform has inadequate guarding (i.e., is high enough that it warrants a restricting barrier around its perimeter that is not so provided)
- Starting platform has inadequate access (i.e., is high enough that ladder or steps should be provided and are not, or that steps are provided, but they are of a height that warrants a hand rail that is not provided)
- Starting platform allows participant access to the carriage
- Lack of presence of a termination block
- Loose or otherwise insufficiently attached
- Too close to support, allowing potential for the participant to strike the support
- The fall zone dimensions are not adequately defined, i.e.:
- Does not begin 6’ before the starting point
- Does not extend at least 6’ to each side of the cable’s pathway
- Does not extend more than 6’ past the end point
- The fall zone is not protected by fall absorption material
- Unacceptable materials: sand, wood chips or shavings, dirt commingled with wood chips, crushed rock
- Acceptable materials: engineered hardwood fiber, non-compacted wood chips or shavings (minimum depth of 12”), shredded tires, engineered composition mat, clean round aggregate (1/4” or 3/8” with no sand)
- Annual documented inspections should be made of:
- Cable and anchor connections
- Carriage assembly
- Fall zone protection
Be sure to save this documentation for 3 years
- Daily inspections should be made of:
- Starting platform (proper access, not wet, icy, etc.)
- Carriage assembly (moves freely, properly rides on cable, inaccessible for participants)
- Handle, peg, or seat (not wet, adequately secure, etc.)
- Fall zone protection (no foreign materials, protective material sufficiently spread, etc.)
- Preventative and responsive maintenance as needed of all moving and structural components
- For more information, see the Challenge Course Inspections RMA
- Zip-lines are typically inappropriate for participants<7 and only certain zip-lines are appropriate for participants aged 7-12. Each zip-line varies, so check to see the appropriate age of use for a zip-line of your construction and size.
- Depending on the size and construction of your zip-line, required size and strength of the participant may vary accordingly. Keep this in mind before allowing certain children to use the zip-line.
- Qualified personnel should monitor participants. They should be experienced and trained in both CPR and first aid.
- Ensure that there is an appropriate staff-to-child ratio. Minimum standards should be set for your facility
- Staff members should be placed at both the beginning and end of the zip-line to keep the area clear and monitor frequency of use.
- No unsupervised or inadequately supervised use of the equipment should be permitted.
Most reported injuries arising from zip-lines are significant, with the most frequent being a fractured bone. By far the most frequent cause of injury is inadequate monitoring, often exacerbated by the age inappropriateness of the victim. Injuries can be prevented by appropriate maintenance and well-trained staff. A less harmful environment ensures maximum enjoyment of your zip-line by its users.
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 YMCA risk management issues.