Climbing Walls Are on the Rise

Article excerpt


One of the hottest trends in adventure recreation is the construction of artificial rock climbing walls. Public schools, summer camps, private climbing gyms, health clubs, and universities are building these structures to meet the heavy demand for this relatively new sport. People associated with climbing walls are calling it the sport of the nineties. When managed effectively, an artificial climbing wall can provide an innovative recreational experience that is safe, educational, and exhilarating. Three key topics related to minimizing the risks that are associated with artificial rock climbing walls can be summed up as "the three p's": (1) policy development and implementation, (2) proper climbing procedures and practices, and (3) prevention of injuries.


Every risk management plan should include specific policies designed to ensure safety for climbing instructors, supervisors, and participants. While policies will vary by type of organization (e.g., summer camp, university, private climbing gym, elementary school), an effective risk management strategy should address issues related to the facility and equipment, the method of supervision, and the participants.

Equipment and the Facility

Climbing wall personnel must adhere to strict and rigorous preventative measures in order to maintain an effective risk management program. It is crucial that supervisors discover hazards, loose hand- and footholds, or worn equipment to ensure a safe environment for climbers and spectators. Furthermore, participants must be adequately warned of inherent dangers. When managing an artificial climbing wall, consider implementing the following strategies and policies:

* Control access to the climbing wall. If possible, lock the facility or climbing area when it is not in use. If it cannot be locked, remove ropes and/or belay devices.

* Provide proper and adequate written warnings on the dangers of climbing.

* Post rules that must be followed when climbing, belaying, and waiting to climb.

* Inspect equipment frequently. Look for wear and tear or potential defects, and remove equipment immediately upon discovery.

* Conduct frequent inspections of climbing wall surfaces and holds. Make adjustments, changes, and repairs as necessary.

* Conduct a scheduled maintenance check at the end of each day to examine climbing wall surfaces, holds, anchors, webbing, ropes, carabiners, belay devices, and other equipment.

* Document facility and equipment inspections and maintenance, and keep all records on file. In particular, keep careful records of the length of time each climbing rope has been in service.

* Establish a clear policy on how often climbing ropes should be replaced, and adhere to it strictly. In addition, replace ropes when they show early signs of wear and tear.

* Use only equipment that has been approved by the UIAA.

* Provide a first aid kit that is readily available at all times. This kit must include gloves. Give clear instructions and training on blood-borne pathogen protocols.

* Post all emergency phone numbers, and have a phone readily available in a nearby location at all times.


A crucial principle of risk management is to ensure adequate supervision of an activity. The degree and type of risk associated with an activity determine the level of supervision that is required. Climbing activities - including belaying, spotting, bouldering (i.e., climbing low enough so that a rope is not needed), warm-up activities, and even spectating - require close and constant supervision. Adequate supervision of indoor climbing areas should include the following:

* Provide close supervision of climbing areas. The wall supervisor must be in the immediate vicinity, within sight and hearing. He or she should supervise all belayers closely and keep a watchful eye on the climbers. …