Elevation Safety: Key Recommendations

Ropes courses, climbing walls, and zip lines provide a great opportunity for youth to try something new, learn new skills, and take calculated, supervised risks. Yet in order for these programs to run successfully, it is critical that staff are set up for success to keep youth safe.

Elevation risks are also an ongoing investment. In addition to the significant upfront building cost, they also need to be regularly maintained and inspected. Proper and routine storage, maintenance, inspections, and staff training are all critical steps to maintain the life of any course. 

Below we have compiled our top recommendations for ensuring elevation safety.

Recommendations for Staff

Regular Staff Training
Aquatics safety would be impossible without regular, realistic lifeguard training. The same is true for elevation safety. That means elevation facilitators need to receive training on at least a monthly basis. All training should be mandatory, and carefully documented.

While the training can range in a wide range of skills, practicing a realistic rescue—like someone having a medical event, or getting stuck on the zip line into the lake—will be critical. When an emergency happens, you want your staff’s response to be second nature. And because emergencies don’t occur every day, training is the only way that staff are going to be given the chance to practice their response. 

Frequent Staff Rotations 
Another thing that we can learn from the lifeguard role is the use of rotations. Staff need to be alert at all times. That’s why rotations are used to help break up monotony, and maintain focus. In addition to rotating positions, facilitators can only do their jobs if they also receive adequate breaks to rest their mind, get water, or use the bathroom.

Equipment Safety

Equipment Inspections 
Every day that your elevation risks are used, they should be carefully inspected. The vendor of your equipment, manufacturer, Association for Challenge Course Technology, or Climbing Wall Association will have specifics on what you are inspecting for.

When inspecting the equipment, it is critical that those inspections are documented. This will include noting when equipment has been taken out of rotation, whether it can be fixed or, ultimately, whether it needs to be destroyed.

Storing and Securing Equipment
Whenever equipment is not in use, it must be properly stored away and secured so that no one who is unsupervised can gain access and get injured. All ropes, holds, and access points should be inaccessible at a minimum of 6-8 feet above the ground. For example, you may post clear signage, lock away equipment so it is inaccessible, or secure the course items that are unable to be moved. This will be especially important for any low ropes courses, as they can often be extremely accessible.

Programming Considerations

Age Appropriateness
When youth are using any elevation risk, it is critical that it is age appropriate. At the very least, this will mean abiding by the equipment’s vendor/manufacturer size and weight limits. It is also important to gauge a youth’s confidence and overall skill level. For some youth, it may be best that they start small, and slowly progress to harder activities. 

Supervising Youth
The job of elevation facilitators is to make sure that the youth using the elevation equipment are safe. Just like lifeguards are not responsible for managing the behavior of youth who are not swimming, elevation facilitators should also not be responsible for youth who are waiting their turn to participate. 

Make sure you have clear roles and responsibilities laid out for all staff, so that everyone knows who is in charge of what. For counselors, or other staff responsible for managing the youth not on the course, have them prepare short activities or games to keep youth engaged while waiting their turn.

Thank you for everything you do to keep youth safe on elevation elements.