Zip line and adventure parks have grown in popularity in recent years, but a number of recent accidents have prompted state government officials to look more closely at regulatory standards for these establishments. Industry groups such as the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA), and American Camp Association (ACA) have adopted voluntary zip line safety standards, but these vary between groups and are not followed uniformly. These standards typically involve regulations regarding equipment, maintenance, and worker training. Insurance providers for these businesses generally require some of these standards be followed by operators, but there is still no unified standard or comprehensive oversight committee.
The injury rate associated with ziplining has been climbing in recent years. A study published last year in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzed 16 years worth of emergency room data and found that the incident rate climbed from 8 per 1 million in 2009 to 12 per 1 million on 2012. The majority (70%) occurred at professional courses or camps. All things considered, this is still a low injury rate compared to other more conventional sports (for example, the injury rate for basketball is 2,650 per 1 million). The reason that zip lining accidents get so much attention is due to the severe nature of the injuries – almost 12% of all incidents resulted in a hospital stay, according to the study.
Zip Line Safety – 5 Key Points
So what can you do to help maintain a safe park this season? The ACA recommends considering these five points:
Staff Training – The majority of zip line accidents are caused by human error (whether operator or participant) and equipment failure. While staff training can be time consuming and costly, it’s well worth the investment. The staff on your courses are responsible for the well-being of your customers, and poor training can lead to even more costly mistakes.
Supervisor Knowledge – Your course supervisor plays a critical role in the functioning of your adventure park. Depending on what activities you provide and even the time of the year or weather, supervisors are likely to encounter a variety of equipment, systems, and conditions. Proper knowledge of how to handle this wide variety of situations and maintain a safe and fun environment for everyone is essential. (The ACA has defined standards for supervisor qualifications, see Supervisor Qualifications below).
Trainer Qualifications – This point goes hand in hand with the first two. Does the person training your staff have the proper qualifications and experience, and can they impart the required knowledge to your employees? Look for trainers who are accredited by a recognized industry organization, such as the ACCT or PRCA.
Equipment Maintenance – Do you regularly inspect your equipment for signs of wear or damage? Zip line equipment such as carabiners and harnesses can be subject to extreme conditions during use, and exposure to the elements can decrease their safe use life. Equipment failure is the second of the two major causes of serious injuries and fatalities, so this is an essential task.
Inspections – Who conducts your course inspections, and how regularly are they performed? The person responsible for inspecting your equipment should be qualified and able to recognize potential safety hazards when they occur.
Following these guidelines aren’t an absolute guarantee that accidents won’t happen, but being mindful of these critical points can help you minimize the chance of an incident.
A subset of the ACA standards pertain particularly to challenge courses and ziplines. These standards are meant are meant to promote a safe and fun environment for employees and participants alike. For more information on these standards and how they pertain to you, visit the ACA website.
PROGRAM EQUIPMENT (PD.8):
Does the camp have written procedures for all program equipment that require:
- PD.8.1 – Equipment is checked on a regular basis for safety, maintained in good repair, and stored in a manner to safeguard effectiveness? YES/NO
- PD.8.2 – Equipment is removed from service if not in good repair? In addition, is equipment that is used for specialized activities (includes adventure/challenge):
- PD.8.3 – Appropriate to the size and ability of the user?
- PD.8.4 – Safety checked prior to each use? AND, for adventure/challenge course equipment:
- PD.8.5 – Are written records maintained of regular inspection and maintenance of all equipment and elements used?
SUPERVISOR QUALIFICATIONS (PD.13):
Are adventure/challenge activities under the overall supervision of an adult staff member who meets the following qualifications?
- PD.13.1 – Certification obtained within the past three (3) years from a recognized organization or certifying body for the type of activities offered or documented training AND recent experience leading/ facilitating the type of activities offered?
- PD.13.2 – Experience—has at least six (6) weeks of experience in a management or supervisory capacity in similar type(s) of program(s) within the past five (5) years?
ANNUAL INSPECTION (PD.24)
Do qualified personnel annually inspect course elements for integrity of hardware, materials, and equipment and provide the camp with a written report that includes recommendations for repairs, replacement, and potential closure of an element?
- The Contextual Education for standard PD.24 further defines: “Qualified personnel” have current and documented experience in construction and evaluation of the type of course they are inspecting and are following authoritative sources and peer accepted practices in construction and inspection. It is the expectation that the recommendations concerning the safety of the course and potential closure of an element will be addressed.
- Why are these three areas so important? Most fatalities or serious injuries related to adventure/challenge activities have been attributed to human error (participant or supervisor) or equipment failure. These ACA standards specifically address those two common causes of serious accidents.
Improving Zip Line Safety With Mobile Inspection
The growing popularity of zip line and adventure courses in general bodes well for the industry, but higher popularity brings increased scrutiny. Because of their inherently extreme nature, zip line accidents are usually highly publicized and grab a lot of attention. Reducing the chance of an incident requires an active focus on safety – from properly inspecting equipment on a regular basis to making sure your staff are properly trained and up-to-date on the latest procedures. At Mobile Inspection, we’ve helped multiple zip line and adventure course companies make sure they make safety a top priority. The Mobile Inspection app allows you to upload pictures of inspected equipment and store them in the cloud, so you know exactly what equipment was inspected when, and by whom. Storing your inspection data electronically also means that your data is secure and instantly accessible in the case of an inspection or liability suit.