Facility Dude

3 tips for staying safe around the climbing wall

By Kate Donnelly
May 18, 2015

Clubs, Safety and Risk Management

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Rock climbing walls make a great addition to any athletic facility. They offer a fun and unique way for users to engage in physical activity while having a blast all at the same time.

Tips for staying safe around the climbing wall Of course, the nature of climbing walls means that safety is essential in their operation. There are a variety of elements, both on the wall and below it, that require regular attention to ensure that people stay safe.

1. Harnesses

The safety harness is one of the most important pieces of equipment you have. In most cases, these harnesses do the bulk of the heavy lifting - literally - when it comes to safety. For this reason, they should be inspected regularly, as well as before each use, to ensure they are still in working order and haven't succumbed to wear and tear.

There are obvious signs that a harness has been damaged or degraded and shouldn't be used, such as fraying threads. "Fuzzy" straps can also indicate that the material of the harness is losing its integrity. But there are less obvious threats you should be aware of as well. For example, ultraviolet light can damage and weaken harnesses. One surefire way to identify this potential safety hazard is inspecting your harnesses' color - fading or discoloration often points to UV light damage.

2. Carabiners

Going hand-in-hand with your harness, the carabiner is another key player in climber safety. This is also another piece of equipment that will undergo significant stress from frequent use, so be sure to inspect it regularly.

A report published by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions pointed out that one telltale sign that it's time to retire a carabiner is what's known as notching. As the metal is put under continued stress, a notch will form on its inside loop. This seemingly small detail can actually have a significant effect on the carabiner's overall tensile strength. If you see this, replace the carabiner immediately - continued use could lead to a fracture or the carabiner breaking entirely.

3. Flooring

What goes up must come down, and when it does, the flooring around your climbing wall should be in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, Athletic Business noted that there are currently no national or industry standards for flooring safety, so it's up to the discretion of the administrator or facility manager to determine if the flooring may be causing a risk. The source indicated that a general guideline is that the floor should extend at least eight feet beyond the outward-most overhanging point of the wall.

One thing to note is that there are two types of climbing walls, and this can impact the safety standards you should apply to your flooring. Top-rope climbing involves safety harnesses and automatic belay ropes, meaning climbers will very infrequently hit the floor. However, an increasingly popular type of climbing called bouldering features angled surfaces and no harness at all. For these types of walls, the flooring below constitutes the only real safety measure. The source suggested a guideline of one inch of padding for every foot of climbing wall. So, for example, if your facility boasted a 10-foot bouldering wall, the flooring beneath it should be at least 10 inches thick.

Flooring can be made of several types of materials, but the most cost-effective is shredded rubber. This may be a good choice for facility managers who want to stretch their budget without compromising safety and who don't mind sweeping bits of rubber back into the proper area regularly.

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