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Chalk Dust: Mitigation & Source Control

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, June 10, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Dealing with chalk dust is something that climbing gyms are entirely too familiar with; everywhere there are climbers, there’s chalk. Most gyms implement chalk mitigation strategies, whether it’s a never-ending cleaning and vacuuming circuit, installing a chalk eater, or a state of the art HVAC system.

 

The father of modern bouldering, John Gill, who had a background in gymnastics, is credited with introducing chalk to climbers at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1954. While its effectiveness at increasing friction was immediately apparent, climbing purists objected to chalk and considered it an ethical dilemma. Not only was the use of chalk to improve grip and keep hands dry considered to be a questionable ethical advantage, it, additionally, builds up on holds and permanently discolors the rock.

 

While today the use of chalk is considered par for the course, in climbing gyms, chalk presents issues as it gets onto practically every available surface and the airborne particles affect air quality. The standard acceptance of chalk use places gym owners and managers in constant reactive mode, which means that in order to implement a successful mitigation strategy, the gym has to stop being reactive and become proactive. This is easier said than done.

 

What is Chalk?

The main ingredient in chalk is magnesium carbonate, also known as MgCO3· nH2O, it’s an odorless, dry fine or bulky powder. In addition to being used for climbing and other sports, magnesium carbonate is widely used as an antacid, an anti-caking agent in food and in personal care products. Pub Chem notes that magnesium carbonate is listed as a safer chemical by the EPA. It is known as a green circle chemical and has, “…been verified to be of low concern based on experimental and modeled data.” Pub Chem also notes that it has been reported to cause eye and skin irritation, with exposure routes topically on the skin or eyes and through inhalation, with recommendations to wash or rinse the skin or eyes with fresh water, or to breathe fresh air. As an inhalation it is noted that a “nuisance-causing concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed.” Which gym owners and staff know, as the air in gyms can appear hazy at peak times. Which leads to many questions about how chalk dust affects indoor air quality.

 

Indoor Air Quality

With HVAC systems running into the tens of thousands and chalk eaters cost nearly $2000 to clean 5000 square feet of gym space, understanding the basic of chalk particles and air quality is necessary to making good decisions on how to mitigate chalk in your gym. Airborne particles of chalk are known as particulate matter (PM). Understanding how air borne chalk particles affect air quality means understanding some basics of indoor air quality (IAQ). The EPA defines indoor air quality as, “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

 

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are:

  • Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles, such as VOC’s.
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants: Vehicle or building exhaust, plumbing vents
  • Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, insects, bird droppings and viruses.
  • Physical contaminants: Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air (which can include soil, dust, metals, organic chemicals, sulfates and nitrates).
  • Inadequate ventilation: Indoor pollutant levels can be increased by not bringing in enough outdoor air and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the building.
  • High temperature and humidity levels: High temperature and humidity are related to increased concentrations of some pollutants.

 

Size Matters

Visible dust on the floor, or surfaces of the gym is unsightly and messy, but unless it’s disturbed it’s not creating problems for air quality. Gym members can and will complain about chalk covered surfaces and greasy holds that have a build-up of chalk, sweat and skin oil. When you see chalk dust on the floor or on a surface it’s very fine, like talc, what you are seeing is a bunch of sub-micron particles lumped together to make a larger particle. It’s the smaller particles of chalk, the ones you don’t see or recognize that affect air quality.

 

The EPA is concerned about particles 10 micron or smaller because these particles are inhalable. These particles once inhaled can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. But it’s important to note that the EPA concerns are based on outdoor PM levels, which are well studied and documented. Outdoor PM effects on human health are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air. However, less is known about the specific impacts of indoor PM on health. PM is found in all indoor environments.

 

Due to poor ventilation and other contributing factors, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels, indoor levels can be gauged by MERV rating. MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value this rating was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers - ASHRAE. MERV values run on a scale from 1 to 16 and gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system in a building or indoor space. For instance, if your HVAC system has a high MERV rating, it is more efficient, meaning that the filter will trap more airborne particles. But filters alone don’t make for effective air cleaners: you have to figure in air flow through the HVAC system and how clean the air filters are. A dirty or clogged air filter or using a filter that is too restrictive may result in low air flow and could cause the system to malfunction.

 

90% of chalk dust is estimated to be 5 microns or less, it’s very very small. A "micron" is a unit of measurement and is an abbreviation of the term "micrometer". One micron is a millionth of a meter (1/1,000,000 meters) or about .00004 inches. Steve Smith with Camfil USA, a company that develops and produces air filters and clean air solutions, has extensively studied, how chalk particles fall. On average Smith says, in a controlled environment it takes 5.7 seconds for a 6 micron and bigger chalk particle to fall 10 feet. But, Smith says, chalk particles 5 microns and smaller are so small that gravity doesn’t have an immediate effect on them and it can take up to 33 days for them to fall down out of the air, but in areas that have air flow, the particles are constantly being moved and lifted. Chalk particles of 1 micron or less become permanent dust as gravity has no effect on particles of that nano size.

 

The physics of air flow creates a challenge when it comes to getting chalk dust out of the air. It’s difficult to generate a sucking air flow that is strong enough to pull the particles out of the air, so particles are removed by blowing particles through the air from one air cleaner to the next to collect all the sub atomic particles.

 

There are three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:

  • Source Control: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of PM or pollution or to reduce their emissions.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. This reduces the level of contaminants and improves indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Air Cleaners: An effective air cleaner is an efficient collector of PM and has high air-circulation rate.

 

When athletes and climbers are engaged in physical activity, they have an increase in respiratory minute ventilation which has a proportional effect on increasing the quantity of PM that is inhaled. Additionally, an increase in airflow velocity can deliver PM deeper into the respiratory tract. It is known that PM of 5 microns and smaller can enter the lungs and bloodstream where they can build up and cause health problems.

 

What is known about people who are exposed to poor IAQ is that they can experience health effects at the time of exposure or even years after breathing it. Symptoms can include: eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

 

Are There Effects of Breathing Chalk Particles?

There is no known research on the effects of humans breathing in chalk dust. Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a Pulmonary Physician with the University Of Utah Hospitals And Clinics and a climber herself, does research on the effects of outdoor pollution. The effects of breathing in climbing chalk is a topic that she has spent quite a lot of time thinking about. Dr. Pirozzi notes that to her knowledge there is no published data on the specific health effects of humans breathing in magnesium carbonate and that it isn’t known what the PM 10 or PM 2.5 concentrations in indoor climbing gyms are, “these are two big research questions that we need information on,” says Dr. Pirozzi.

 

Higher occupancy rates and the type of activity developing in the gym effects indoor air quality as athletes and climbers increase CO2, while high occupancy also influences PM concentrations. Dr. Pirozzi says that, “concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are going to vary quite a bit due to building characteristics, the filter, MERV rating, climbing traffic and time of day.” Generally speaking, Dr. Pirozzi can talk about the health effects of particulate pollution, but she thinks it is unknown how much particulate pollution climbers are exposed to in gyms.

 

A 2008 study and a 2012 study on chalk dust concentrations and reduction strategies both measured very high levels of particulate matter during busy hours. Dr. Pirozzi says, “This shows that climbing gyms may have very elevated levels of particulate matter, but there are likely many factors that would influence those levels. It would be interesting to evaluate with the newer filter systems.”

 

OSHA has standards of permissible exposure limits for magnesium carbonate that consider both the concentrations of magnesium carbonate in the air and length of exposure, however without specific data from gyms, there is no way to determine the air quality and how much , if any, magnesium carbonate indoor climbers are exposed to. The question Dr. Pirozzi wants to know the answer to is; are there different health effects from exposure to magnesium carbonate compared with other PM? The answer to this question, she acknowledges lies in study and research.

 

Source Control

The simplest approach is to implement reduction strategies, to reduce the amount of chalk dust in the gym and you’ll reduce the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces. Considering the ritual most climbers have regarding around the way they chalk up before a climb, or can obsessively chalk up while on a route, it’s not realistic to ban chalk. But there are strategies between all or nothing that can be implemented.

 

Specify the Type of Chalk and the Delivery Method Members Use

Many gyms ask members to not use loose chalk, asking members to use chalk balls or liquid chalk instead. A 2012 study on the air borne concentrations of multiple types of chalk using chalk balls, pressed chalk and powdered chalk. The study determined that with the exception of liquid chalk; chalk balls, pressed and powdered chalk leads to airborne chalk particles, the concentration of which is determined by traffic in the gym. While chalk in a chalk ball does not lead to a significant reduction in airborne particles compared to regular block chalk, it is worth noting that the chalk ball does prevent spills. But the study is clear in stating that chalk balls did not lead to a reduction of airborne particles. In comparison ethanol based (liquid chalk) led to the same low mass concentrations of airborne chalk particle as banning chalk entirely.

 

Educate New and Existing Members on How to Chalk Up

In general climbers use too much chalk, says Kevin Brown of FrictionLabs. A climber for over 20 years, Brown says it all too common for climbers to use too much chalk and cake it on their hands and fingers. Too much chalk he explains actually acts like a dry lubricant, and he notes that generic chalk contributes to the problem, as climbers tend to use more of it and it gets spilled. FrictionLabs recommends that climbers use less chalk and employ a layering strategy: apply a base layer of liquid chalk then reapply small amounts of loose chalk as needed, the liquid chalk base will reduce the total amount of chalk the climber uses in a session. Brown states, “just like there is a belay test and safety talks about the skills that climbers need, climbers need to know about chalk. Chalk creates a huge mess in the gym and no one really talks about how you should use chalk.” When you put chalk on your hands initially, Brown says, instead of reaching down into your chalk bag repeatedly for more chalk, you can move it from one hand to the other, distributing it from your palms to your fingertips. Layering with liquid chalk works by filling in all the nooks and crannies, and creates a good base layer climbers will need less additional chalk as they climb. Climbers don’t need a completely chalky hand to have a good grip, Brown notes that there’s a real opportunity for climbers to use chalk smarter.

 

Putting It All Together

Installing HVAC systems, chalk eaters, or implementing cleaning protocols impacts your bottom line either in major capital expenses or ongoing increased labor, this is considered a reactive approach, cleaning up after the fact. It’s nearly unimaginable that gyms could or would ever ban all types of powdered chalk, but implementing education about how to apply and use chalk is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  chalk dust  customer experience  operations  OSHA  risk management 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part II - Tips for Boomer Instruction

Posted By Tom Weaver, Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

Part I of this series explained the business case for adding programming for Boomers to your climbing gym, and once you’ve decided to take that step, how to market and message that program. Now, it’s time to think through the considerations unique to working with this age group.

 

Boomer Instruction Overview

I start each class in Climb Iowa’s auto-belay and traverse wall area with a warm-up consisting of stretching and traversing. Stretching is very important, as well as some easy shoulder, forearm, and leg warm-ups. During this time, I talk about hold orientation and some basic climbing techniques.

 

Then I move on to a climbing-specific warm-up of traversing. I start by emphasizing center-of-gravity awareness, the importance of footwork (moving their base), and the fact that climbing isn’t about doing pull-ups. I spot Boomers with care, especially during their first class. Sometimes I’ll place one or both hands lightly on their backs as they traverse after first asking their permission. We discuss (and I demonstrate) how to fall if they come off the traverse wall or stumble on a padded floor mat.

 

Questions are encouraged at all times. After warming up and traversing, we then move to Climb Iowa’s easiest 5.5 top-rope climb on a slab. I explain why I’m wearing belay gloves, what belaying entails, and why I always use an assisted-braking belay device. I explain why the retrace figure-8 knot is used. We look up at the route’s anchor to ensure we’re tying into the correct rope for the route we’re planning to climb, and what could happen if we didn’t do that (a big swing).

 

I explain that we’re going to practice coming down from just a few feet up before they climb farther up the route. We introduce climber/belayer communications and risk management partner checks. This is all pretty standard stuff in your facility, I’m sure.

 

I pay close attention to energy levels in the Boomer class to ensure everyone has fun while learning, and that soreness following the first day’s class is minimized. If this means that a student climbs only one 5.5 slab route during the first two-hour class, that’s fine. Having fun and learning climbing movements and techniques while not pushing anyone too fast or too far past their comfort level is important with this age group.

 

A Summary of What Boomers are Taught: (Risk management best practices are emphasized at nearly every step)

  1. We recommend top-rope climbing only for Boomers, although some graduate to boulder & lead
  2. Having fun during each class, and to climb with fellow students between each week’s class
  3. Climb Iowa’s Belay Certification class is included at no additional cost
  4. Importance of Climber/Belayer communications (On Belay?/Belay On, Climbing/Climb On)
  5. Risk Management partner checks – every time on every climb (Explain what could go wrong)
  6. We practice traversing at the beginning of each class as a warm-up and to gain movement skills
  7. Footwork is emphasized (quiet feet, precise placement; a glue-feet climbing game)
  8. Straight Arm climbing (a Franken-Arm climbing game)
  9. Reminders to remember to breathe!
  10. Climb relaxed, conserve power with grace; use momentum to your advantage - make it look easy
  11. Opportunistic resting, watch feet onto footholds before looking away
  12. Hold types and directionality, Matching, Flagging, Weight-shifting, Balance and Foot-switching
  13. Mantling and Stemming Day is a big hit and proves that climbing isn’t all about pull-ups!
  14. The puzzle-solving, cognitive part of climbing: Route Reading, Rainbow Routes and Projecting

An interesting statistic: Women in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class have outnumbered men nearly two-to-one since the beginning of Climb Iowa’s Boomer initiative. At the time of this writing, one week before the first Friday in April, the sign-up sheet is showing that it will be another all-female Boomer class.

 

Teaching the Importance of Risk Management Partner Checks

At the beginning of the third week’s class I surreptitiously undo one of my double-backed harness buckles and leave it routed through the buckle but not double-backed. I then keep refusing to belay the first climber until one of the students’ notices what’s wrong, or until they give up. I usually get to claim a successful ‘Aha – gotcha!’ and proceed to show them the problem. Only three or four students in nearly four years have discovered the problem, and at least one of those was warned by a former student.

 

This tactic has proven to be memorable to our students and emphasizes that you don’t just casually glance at a climber’s or belayer’s harness as you conduct those critical risk management partner checks (every time on every climb). We must look directly at harness buckles to know for sure they are double-backed and secure. Based on feedback, students have enjoyed and appreciated this lesson in particular.

 

Understanding and anticipating what can go wrong and conducting thorough and specific risk management partner checks every time on every climb is mandatory in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class and throughout Climb Iowa.

 

Auto-Belays vs. Boomers

Kids love auto-belays, but most Boomers new to climbing are just the opposite. Older Boomers are especially leery of auto-belays and find them very scary. Making Boomers go up an auto-belay route and let go as their very first rock climbing experience is a tough introduction. My experience has taught me the older the Boomer, the scarier auto-belays are.

 

Boomers do better when introduced to auto-belays toward the end of the first day’s class. They have made their first climbs and descents on top-rope routes with a gentle belay. This gives them a better feel for standing away from the wall and coming down with their feet wide apart during descents. They get a feel for what it’s like to be suspended from a rope by their harness. We then explain auto-belay descents are the same but a bit faster coming down, and that it’s not necessary to ‘stick’ the landing on their feet. We also caution them about getting a foot hung up on a hold as the auto-belay is lowering them.

 

A Fun Graduation Ceremony

At the end of the final Boomer Climbers Movement Class, I hand out a graduation certificate we’ve created and laminated. This single-page certificate is two-sided and covers the climbing skills learned during the class and the reasons why indoor climbing is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

I point out their remarkable progress since their first climb and congratulate each student on the courage they’ve shown and on the climbing skills they’ve acquired during their month-long indoor climbing adventure. All agree that they have come a long way, and most are delighted with their achievements.

 

Most Boomer students go on to purchase annual memberships and continue to climb with a new circle of interesting friends. All seem to enjoy the under-appreciated inter-generational aspects of indoor climbing.

 

The Best Health and Wellness Activity for Retirement Years

At first glance, climbing appears to be a highly unlikely activity for Boomers. The fear of falling and injury is common, however once the remarkable benefits of indoor climbing are explained, a significant number of Boomers begin to realize that indoor climbing’s fall prevention system, emphasis on center-of-gravity awareness, strength and agility improvements, intense balancing practice, and attention to precise movement and footwork actually make it an ideal fitness activity for many Boomers.

 

In addition to the programs being run through indoor climbing facilities, we are now seeing small businesses being created to engage with this audience, like Stay.stoked Adventures. This business will be the first (that I know of) to offer Introduction to Rock Climbing schools for the 50+ demographic, located in Squamish, British Columbia. There is so much potential for the future of rock climbing that involves the Baby Boomer generation.

 

I use my experience as further proof that indoor climbing can be a great path to lifetime fitness and health for Boomers. Simply put, I’m a greatly improved new version of myself since discovering indoor climbing. I have fun, I meet new friends, it keeps me fit, and it’s the greatest reason to keep my weight under control I’ve ever found. Climbing is fun and, even better, is a perfect way to focus on health and wellness! I can’t imagine an exercise activity better suited for retirement years than indoor rock climbing.

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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Focus on Workplace Safety – Eye Protection for Workers in Climbing Facilities

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Eye Protection

Despite how the muscles in your forearms might feel while climbing, the muscles that control our eyes are the most active in the human body. Likewise, our eyes, part of our nervous system, are one of our most complex organs, second only to the brain. Even though only 1/6 of our eye is exposed to the outside, and our eyelids, brows, and lashes help to protect our eyes, they are still highly vulnerable to injury. Our eyes are susceptible to UV light, harmful substances, and trauma.

 

Workplace injuries are the leading cause of eye trauma, vision loss, disability, and blindness. In 2017 alone there were over 23,000 non-fatal workplace eye injuries in the US. Thankfully, 90% of eye injuries are preventable with the proper safety eyewear.

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in CFR 1910.133 requires that, “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

 

Of all the tasks in a climbing facility, routesetting is the most likely, but perhaps not the only, job where eye protection is needed. These days, most professional routesetters use impact drills, which increase the exposure to flying debris hazards.

 

Not all safety glasses are intended for the same purpose, so make sure to select equipment compatible with the work you are doing. OSHA requires that safety glasses be specially rated and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). All safety glasses and goggles should be rated ANSI Z87.1 for eye protection, with the Z87 mark on the frames or lenses. Using glasses that are not safety-rated may increase your exposure to a hazard because standard eyeglasses and sunglasses can shatter.

 

Cody Grodzki, Director of Routesetting for High Point Climbing and Fitness in Tennessee and Alabama, said they have recently employed the use of face shields, like the Petzl Vizen, during routesetting activities while on ropes and ladders. A face-shield provides wrap-around protection from flying debris and particles. The Vizen is compatible with the helmets they wear, provides full-face protection, and meets the ANSI Z87.1 standard.

 

Eye injuries can result in vision loss, so if an eye injury occurs it is important to recognize it and respond appropriately. First, do not attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself – seek medical attention. If a person has obvious pain, trouble seeing, a cut or torn eyelid, blood in the eye, or something that is not easily removed, it is important to seek medical attention. Attempting to remove something that is embedded in the eye can create more damage.

 

Some facilities may offer portable eyewash stations with rinse bottles. These can be helpful for minor first-aid response, but keep in mind the limitations of an eyewash bottle. Eyewash stations should be easily reachable with clear access. From a risk management program perspective, the rinse solution in eyewash bottles has an expiration date and needs to be inspected and maintained.

 

As with all work, remember to take the necessary precautions before beginning and make sure you understand the hazards in the tasks you are performing. If possible, try to eliminate the hazard first. Ensure that tool guards and other “engineering controls” are in place. Make sure your eyewear is comfortable and fits. Finally, don’t overlook eye protection – use it.

 

References

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Vision Council
National Eye Institute

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson works as an EOSH Professional and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing gym industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  job hazard analysis  operations  OSHA  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  standards 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part I - The Boomer Opportunity

Posted By Tom Weaver, Monday, April 22, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

My Story

I’m just a flatlander Iowan, but I believe the information and lessons I’ve learned as the instructor for Climb Iowa’s Boomer Climbers Movement Class could be valuable for your climbing gym operation.

 

Ten years ago, at age 63, I walked into an REI flagship store with my two granddaughters (5 and 7 years old), and there was a 50’ climbing tower with people dangling from ropes. After my initial surprise, I carelessly said, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it” and they took me up on it! Instant regret - I’m not fond of heights. The oldest granddaughter climbed and then it was my turn. Wait, I thought, climbing can’t be good for folks over 50, 60, or 70…right? That’s certainly how I felt as I stood at the bottom of that tower looking up and wondering how the hell I’d gotten myself into this fix.

 

At that point I was like many Boomers. I thought I was pretty active but knew I was a ‘bit’ overweight, a ‘little’ stressed, didn’t exercise ‘quite’ enough (who has time?), had a ‘little’ problem with asthma, and had a ‘bit’ of a problem climbing too many stairs at once. I had never heard of, much less considered, indoor rock climbing.

 

Fast forward ten years, I’m 55 pounds lighter, have a resting heart rate about 25 beats/minute slower, and for nearly four years I’ve enjoyed being the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa. I look forward every month to helping a new Boomer class have fun and rediscover exhilaration while greatly improving their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility. My hope is that all of our Boomer students will find that indoor top-rope rock climbing with grace and skill is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

The Business Case for Boomer-specific Programming

Beyond the fact that climbing can make a positive impact in the lives of Boomers, there is a compelling business case to be made:

  1. Millions of Boomers have the time
  2. Millions of Boomers have the money
  3. Retired Boomers can attend classes and climb during weekdays
  4. Boomers are increasingly interested in fitness and health
  5. There are 108 million Americans over 50, and 10,000 of them turn 65 every day

108 million folks over 50 are a few too many to ignore… agreed? Get started now if you haven’t already! Find the right instructor, design a Boomer class, and add a vibrant community of mature adult climbers to your business. It’s a big opportunity and a smart strategy.

 

According to Climb Iowa’s management team, climbers 50 years and older represent 7% of their membership base, and that number is rising every year. Some of these members are climbing 5.11 and 5.12 routes. The route ratings are not lenient, and these are flatlander Iowans – non-climbers prior to taking the Boomer Climbers Movement Class. Boomers at Climb Iowa learn that climbing techniques and precision movement skills are a great path to a lifetime of fitness, social interactions, and a new circle of friends.

 

The Boomer community is an enthusiastic and growing part of Climb Iowa’s business. Boomers may be vocal about their climbing, as it seems they do a good job recruiting new members after their experience in our month-long Boomer Climbers Movement Class.

 

Marketing Tips for Boomer Classes (ages 50 and over):

  1. Create signage and place around the gym
  2. Seniors prefer the term ‘Boomers’
  3. Word of mouth is best, find ways to encourage this
  4. Plan a few fairs or events per year specific to seniors/Boomers
  5. The instructor should be a Boomer who enjoys presenting indoor climbing’s benefits to his/her age group
  6. Train gym staff to explain the Boomer class to interested individuals

 

Potential Obstacles for Boomers

The primary obstacle for Boomers is fear of falling and injury. They require a logical and convincing discussion to even consider trying it. Most Boomers have had enough injury in their lives – been there, done that. Therefore, they appreciate an obvious and ongoing attention to risk management more than most and need to see risk management best practices outlined in class descriptions and hear about it at the outset of any discussions.

 

The secondary obstacle preventing Boomers from indoor climbing is that most have never been exposed to it. Among those who have, few have been presented with good information and available classes specific to their age group.

 

Messaging for Boomers – Overcoming Objections

Both of the obstacles mentioned above are easily addressed. Many Boomer students have mentioned that my age and ability to relate to their concerns were reassuring factors as they were making their decision to enroll. When we meet, I assure them I’m as interested in avoiding injury as they are, then explain that risk management will be emphasized and taught at all times throughout the month-long class. I also make a point to assure them they won’t need to do anything unless they’re willing (I encourage but don’t push).

 

Some “always wanted to try it” and saw that we had a class specifically tailored for Boomers. Others were like me; searching for a way to exercise that was more interesting than doing the same repetitive exercise motions over and over again week after week, month after month, year after year. Indoor climbing is pretty much the opposite of repetitive!

 

Several Boomers who attended our class either know climbers or have close family members who are climbers. Since Iowa winters seem to get longer every year, many Boomers who found their way to our class were simply looking for a great winter exercise activity.

 

Some students suffer from arthritis and had been prescribed regular exercise but got bored doing the same movements all the time – curls, treadmill, elliptical machines, weight machines, dumbbells, rowing machine, etc.

 

At least one student got enrolled in our class as a birthday gift from his family.

 

When Boomers express their concern about risk prior to taking the class, I explain that climbing is dangerous but that published injury rates for indoor top-rope climbing are remarkably low compared to other sports and activities like tennis, biking, or even treadmill exercising. Explaining the difference between actual risk and perceived risk is particularly important for Boomers who are new to climbing. I’m not fond of heights and explain that I didn’t begin taking classes at Climb Iowa until I had researched indoor climbing’s injury rate. Many laugh at that, but I can tell they feel pretty much the same. They’re glad to know injury rates are low compared to other popular sports and activities – many of which they have done before.

 

I go on to say the goal for the class is to learn to climb with skill and grace and have fun while doing it. It’s also important that the class encourages successful aging through fitness and health. I explain that although it seems unlikely, indoor climbing is actually a great fall prevention activity. We discuss why that’s true and how the strength, flexibility, balance, and agility gained through indoor climbing can help improve their daily lives.

 

I also mention how much fun it is watching your friends’ faces as you casually mention that you went rock climbing the other day. Boomers who rock climb in Iowa are about as common as big game hunters, but this type of comment may not be as effective if you live in Colorado or Utah.

 

A Summary of Messaging for Boomers:

  1. Climbing is dangerous, yet indoor climbing has a remarkably low injury rate per thousand hours of participation when compared to other activities (Again, see Fear vs. Reality on my website)
  2. How indoor climbing changed the instructor’s life; he’s an active climber at age 72
  3. Indoor Top-Rope Rock Climbing has a remarkable list of high-value attributes:
    • It’s Exhilarating and Social; you meet new friends and interesting people
    • It Never Gets Old (routesetters are always busy)
    • It’s Low Impact – smooth movements, not jerky, doesn’t pound on joints
    • It’s Inter-generational; you can belay and climb with grandkids, children, and younger adults
    • It’s Confidence-Inspiring and enhances self-esteem
    • It’s a Total Body Workout, yet so fun you don’t even notice how much you’re exercising
    • It’s Physical and Cognitive; fun on many levels!
    • Functional Strength is best realized through skill development. Indoor climbing can improve daily life by delivering true functional fitness to Boomers.
  4. Indoor Rock Climbing is a great Fall Prevention Activity – here’s why:
    • 2.4 million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries annually, 700,000 are hospitalized
    • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in the United States
    • Indoor climbing has a world-class fall prevention system – perfect for older adults
    • This fall prevention system develops balancing muscles and skills – great for older adults
    • Indoor climbing strengthens the core, hips, and legs, and supercharges agility and center-of-gravity awareness. This all adds up to make indoor climbing a great way to reduce the risk of falls in daily life.

Next Time, Tips for Boomer Instruction

In Part II of this series, I will go into detail on how to structure classes for Boomers and provide my best tips and tricks for working with this age group. Keep an eye out for it in the CWA newsletter!

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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One Small Step (or how a close call changed my routesetting life)

Posted By Peter Zeidelhack, Sunday, March 24, 2019
Peter Zeidelhack Routesetting

When I started climbing about 28 years ago, there were no climbing gyms around, so our dad built us our own little steep woody where my love for routesetting and climbing holds was born. Today I’m a routesetting nerd, a gear freak, and a hold-aficionado. I’m passionate about every aspect of routesetting, except maybe cleaning holds… I love the workout and feeling exhausted after a day on the rope. I love watching the members enjoy the routes my team and I set and seeing their happy faces (or the challenged, angry ones). As long as our members are happy, we are happy.

 

I also like to teach routesetting, which I’ve been doing for almost 8 years now. As our industry is growing, this is becoming progressively more important. More gyms mean more routes and boulders have to be set more often, and people need to know the fundamentals on all aspects of routesetting in order to be able to create a great experience for the customers. We want them to come back, don’t we?

 

As for Germany, it’s only in the last 15 years that the growth in climbing gyms really started picking up pace, and through that growth routesetting has become more and more important. My first contact with routesetting was at the 1991 World Cup in Nürnberg where a certain Wolfgang Güllich was setting the routes together with Kurt Albert and others. When these guys were routesetting from ropes back then, what did it look like? Maybe a bit like this:

 

Vintage Routesetting Technique

 

Some of us might have used techniques similar to this at a certain stage or actually still do.

 

When I started routesetting, everyone was using standard sport climbing practices. We thought, “Yeah man, climbing gym, cool, all good! No sharp edges, no cutting tools! We climb all the time with one rope, why would we need more than one rope for routesetting? We’re comfortable with height as climbers, no problem!” We felt invincible. We were teaching routesetters this way, we were routesetting this way ourselves, and we probably would still be routesetting this way if not for the wake-up call we got one day. A rope almost ruptured on a coworker of mine due to a sharp edge on the wall and luckily, we didn’t have to learn the hard way:

 

 

“Once in a lifetime” you say? Nope, this was not a singular event when it comes to damaged ropes. My team started to notice this happening with some regularity, and we determined that the hazards of a cut rope weren’t preventable. So, what do we do? Similarly to the CWA’s Work-at-Height standard, we apply techniques that are already used in other fields. We switched to a redundant way of routesetting and began teaching it this way from then on. Not only in Germany but also in other European Countries like the UK, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, and France. The community is rethinking safety standards for the industry on a larger scale.

 

Routesetting has evolved along with the sport of climbing, the climbing community, as well as overall industry growth. You all know this! A climbing film winning an Academy Award, combined sport climbing being part of the Olympic family next year, and the level of awareness of climbing and the gym industry is growing faster than ever. We have to meet this awareness with a certain level of professionalism.

 

What does this mean for routesetting? We have to be aware of what we are doing and the bottom line for this is: we are not climbing when we are routesetting, we are working, and we have to act accordingly! I will not dig into the hazard analysis and the legalities – this has been done here before.

 

My point is the necessary shift in our mindset as routesetters – be it the Operations Manager, the Head Routesetter, or the routesetters on the team. It doesn’t take much to embrace this way of thinking and if you value your life, this is the best way. I am not only talking cut ropes but also human error, injuries, and medical issues. Do we really want to wait for an even bigger accident to finally see the obvious?*

 

I‘m on a mission. And my mission is to make the routesetting profession safer on a global scale. With the industry getting bigger, more gyms popping up everywhere, and more demand for awesome routes, new routesetters need to know what they are doing. We want to give them the tools to pursue a professional curriculum and keep customers from getting hurt.

 

In order for our industry to keep growing, we need to reduce risk in routesetting. What I personally want most is to have routesetting stay as much fun as it is right now, and that involves safety: not third, not second, FIRST! The foundation of routesetting is all about safety. Creating movement and climbing come after that.

 

*Editor’s note: As this post was being prepared, an accident occurred in Germany resulting in the death of a climbing wall worker named Gerhard Haug. Mr. Haug was conducting an inspection on the wall and fell from 16 meters (over 50 feet). It is not clear what kind of rope system was in use, but it was not redundant. There was apparently no rope attached to his harness. We will share further information if it becomes available.

 


From Climber to Worker: A Panel Discussion on Work-at-Height

Join Peter Zeidelhack and other routesetting leaders for a panel discussion of the Work-at-Height standard and the future of the routesetting profession during the 2019 CWA Summit conference. Register here.


 

Peter Zeidelhack Head ShotAbout the Author

Peter Zeidelhack has been a routesetter for 16 years, specializing in commercial routesetting and routesetting safety. He is Head of Routesetting Training for DAV (German Alpine Club), manager of two gyms, and responsible for routesetting in 4 gyms with a total climbing surface of 16.000 square meters.

 

Tags:  certifications  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

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The Three Most Important Pieces of Personal Protective Equipment for Climbing Wall Workers

Posted By Aaron Gibson, MS, Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Personal Protective Equipment

Climbing wall workers are confronted with a number of potential hazards to be protected against. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the term given to wearable devices and clothing used in the workplace to protect workers from various hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that PPE “shall be provided, used, and maintained,” whenever necessary by risk of injury and hazard exposure to workers [1]. Each job task should be assessed for potential hazards (see my previous article about JHAs) but most climbing wall workplaces can benefit from three fundamental forms of PPE: eye protection, hearing protection, and hand protection.

 

Safety Glasses and Safety Goggles

Eye Protection

Eye protection is perhaps the most important protection device in your PPE toolbox because our eyes are delicate and vulnerable to a variety of hazards. OSHA requires that “the employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles…” [2]. Most notable in the climbing wall workplace are physical impacts such as projectile materials, particulate matter, and liquid chemicals. An approved pair of safety glasses with side shields can protect against metal shards, plastic particles from holds, and wood dust, such as when using an impact drill during routesetting. Safety goggles provide all-around protection and should be used for splash hazards often found during cleaning operations with liquid chemicals.

 

Earplugs and Earmuffs

Hearing Protection

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur as a result of both a one-time excessive noise level and from long-term exposures to excessive noise. While single intense “impulse” noises are possible in the climbing gym environment, more likely are chronic, long-term exposures to elevated noise levels (above 85 decibels) over time. The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. The use of disposable earplugs or earmuffs provides the necessary protection. Depending on the type of device used, these effectively reduce the noise levels by 15-35+ decibels, saving a worker’s hearing. Some workers may use music headphones or ear-buds in lieu of earplugs (or earmuffs) and while these may provide some noise reduction they are typically not designed to protect in the same manner as hearing protection. In fact, in some cases, listening to loud music while also performing work in a noisy environment may even increase your risk of hearing loss, so be aware of what type of hearing protection you choose.

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Hand Protection

As climbing wall workers, protecting your hands is important to your ability to both work and climb. Gloves provide the necessary barrier between our hands and what we are handling. Select appropriate gloves for the task you are performing. There are different gloves for different types of tasks weather it is housekeeping chores, hold washing, routesetting, or other manual labor. Routesetters that go without work gloves while stripping a wall are susceptible to cuts and abrasions to their hands from bolts, spinning holds, and repeated contact of handling holds. Workers can benefit from preventing blisters and abrasions by wearing a thin-layer work glove when performing daily cleaning duties.

 

In summary, the use of PPE is an important means of reducing workplace injuries and incidents. While protecting workers’ eyes, ears, and hands is a good place to start, keep in mind that training is necessary for proper work practices. An emphasis on worker participation and the demonstration of a positive safety culture by management is paramount to effectiveness.

 

References and Resources

[1] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132 – Personal Protective Equipment
[2] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133 – Eye and Face Protection
[3] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 – Occupational Noise Exposure
[4] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - National Institutes of Health – Information on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
[5] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.138(a) – Hand Protection

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson works as an EOSH Professional and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing gym industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  management  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

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Beyond Fall Protection: Risk Management for Climbing Wall Workers in the Gym Environment

Posted By Aaron Gibson, MS, Monday, October 22, 2018
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2018
Worker Safety in Climbing Gyms

Safety in the workplace is important in all working environments, including climbing gyms. The General Duty Clause of the 1970 OSHA Act mandates that employers have a legal responsibility to present a safe working environment [1]. Climbing gyms often focus their risk management policies on fall protection, and rightly so, but are there weaknesses in other areas that present hazards to workers? This article will go beyond fall protection to help you consider other possible workplace hazards associated with a typical climbing gym, and introduce a technique for enhancing your workplace safety program as a whole.

 

The best time to address potential hazards is before they occur. A good starting point is the use of a Job Hazard Analysis or JHA [2]. A JHA is a technique that helps with the identification of hazards and examines the relationship between the worker, a particular task, and potential hazards. The JHA process is commonly applied in industrial work settings to address specific tasks that present hazardous conditions, but the same techniques can be effectively applied in a climbing gym setting.

 

The first step of a JHA is identification. First identify and prioritize tasks in the gym to be analyzed. This can be based on a preliminary review of accident/incident/near miss reports, feedback from staff, or experience with gym tasks. Some front-desk tasks may not be necessary to examine in depth. However, consider that infrequently performed jobs may be the ones that present the greatest hazard to workers. Things like changing air filters, removing a t-nut from behind a wall, accessing an electrical panel, power-washing handholds, even changing a high-bay light, have hazards associated with them.

 

Next, list the individual steps to accomplish the task. Think in terms of sequence of events. Make notes on what is done rather than how it is done. Start each entry with a verb, for example, “Turn on power washer.” This part of the process is often done through observation and documenting of the task while it is being performed.

 

As you progress, identify potential hazards. You are looking at possible areas of harm to the worker: risks to life, limb, eyesight, hearing, etc. Address questions like: What can go wrong? What are the consequences? How likely is it that the hazard will occur? What are other contributing factors?

 

List preventive measures and consider ways to eliminate or reduce the hazards. Is there a smarter way to do the job? Consider changes to equipment, changes in tools, changes to work processes, changes to access methods for work-at-height, or changes to the personnel doing the job. Often there will be a combination of controls used. If engineering controls and administrative controls are not enough to address the hazard, use personal protective equipment (PPE) (ex: hearing protection, eye protection, gloves, etc.).

 

The preventive step requires a trade-off of sorts, usually based on larger factors like time and money. While elimination of a hazard is the most effective solution, it can also be the most expensive, and often times impractical. Administrative controls and PPE tend to be more cost effective but require more management, training, and continuous monitoring. Maintaining accident, injury, illness and near-miss reports is an important part of continuous monitoring to ensure your program is effective.

 

The final steps include correcting hazardous conditions, communicating with staff about the findings, and re-training staff if necessary. A periodic review of your JHAs is necessary as tasks or equipment can change over time. Involve staff in making the gym a secure workplace – they are often in the best position to identify what the risks and hazards in the workplace are as they evolve over time.

 

Example Job Hazard Analysis

Removing a stuck t-nut (at ground level) behind a climbing wall.

 

Sample Job Hazard Analysis

Resources and References

  1. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/section5-duties
  2. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.pdf
  3. https://www.osha.gov/shpguidelines/getting-started.html

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson holds a Masters of Science Degree from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and has over fifteen years of work experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the indoor climbing industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  job hazard analysis  OSHA  risk management  standards 

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