Safety warning issued over artificial climbing structures

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 18 October, 2022 - 12:30
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert reminding employers of the risks associated with indoor artificial climbing structures and their safety equipment.

Since March 2022, four people, including children, have fallen and been seriously injured when using artificial climbing structures. These falls have been caused by equipment failures or misuse through inadequate supervision.

Artificial climbing structures include climbing walls, ladders and other structures at artificial climbing venues and children’s play and activity centres.

Safety equipment, such as the automatic belay system or harness, can fail during use if it is not properly maintained.

Most users of climbing structures at play and activity centres are children. Children need more attention and supervision than adults do, to ensure they use the facility and equipment safely.

Children should be closely supervised when using climbing structures, to ensure they obey the rules for safe use and use the safety equipment properly. Where children have not been adequately supervised, they have fallen from heights after not connecting the harness to the auto belay, either correctly or at all.

A child’s harness should always be checked by an employee before they climb, to ensure it is correctly connected and secured to the auto belay.

The alert said employers must provide employees with the information, instruction, and training needed for them to be able to competently assess the safety of a person’s harness and their secure attachment to the auto belay before they climb.

Information, instruction and training must also be provided on how to adequately supervise climbers, especially children, and on inspecting and maintaining the safety equipment.

Furthermore, climbing structures and safety equipment should be inspected daily for:

  • wear such as cuts or fraying on ropes or the webbing of auto belay or harnesses, which could cause the material to snap during use
  • wear on parts such as the pins on safety keys and the connector locking mechanism, which could allow the user to be insecurely attached and cause them to fall
  • damage to the climbing structures, which can leave sharp edges that could cut the harness or auto belay webbing and cause them to snap or fail, and
  • the presence of safety or product information labels on the harness, which state when the harness should be destroyed or thrown away

Before they climb, climbers should be closely inspected:

  • for jewellery, watches, rings and wristbands, which could get tangled in the equipment or cut or fray the rope, harness or auto belay webbing, and
  • to ensure that they are properly connected to the safety system

As well as the above, an appropriate inspection and maintenance program should include:

  • scheduled daily, monthly, and annual inspections (see table above) of climbing equipment and structures, including the wall or structure, harnesses, auto belay, matting and floors
  • record when equipment was first used so it can be identified and destroyed or thrown away when past its recommended service life
  • after an incident, fully inspect all equipment to ensure it is suitable for use, including climbing walls or structures, harnesses, auto belays, matting and floors.

The alert said climbers should be supervised to the level needed for their age and skill level, and supervision should include:

  • employees roaming throughout the activity area, including planned roaming paths and designated stationary positions (for larger venues) with overlapping field of view
  • providing effective ways for employees on the floor to communicate, such as hand-held two-way radios
  • set a minimum user age that needs a supervising adult and refuse entry into the climbing area if underage or without an adult
  • provide a pre-activity briefing on safe play and use rules:
    • explain the various safety equipment and demonstrate correct use, including connecting to the auto belay and how to check that the harness is correctly locked in place
    • employees to choose and fit correct harness to climbers
    • explain that climbers must wait for an employee to check that their harness is properly connected to the auto belay before they can climb
    • explain exclusion zones under each climbing structure
    • explain outcomes of not complying with safe play and use rules, such as immediate removal from the area, and
    • explain how to report an unsafe situation or damaged equipment
  • have an employee-to-climbers supervision ratio:
    • consider the user group, including ages, physical abilities, any special needs that the climber has, experience levels, and the difficulty of the activity
    • have set session times for bookings and limit the number of spots
    • lock or restrict access into the climbing activity area when a session starts or the maximum number of climbers is reached
    • limit the equipment available for use to the supervision ratio, and
    • specify areas for different skill levels and ages where more supervision is given, such as an area for beginners or children, or a more complex activity