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

Posted By Peter Zeidelhack, 13 hours ago
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.

 

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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An Interview with Jesse Williams, Work-at-Height Trainer

Posted By Laura Allured, Monday, October 8, 2018
Jesse Williams Work at Height

With our annual Certification Summit coming up next month, we wanted to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we get about the Work-at-Height program, and there's nobody better to ask than Jesse Williams, one of our top Work-at-Height trainers! Read on to learn about the background of the program, what the various levels cover, and the future of the Work-at-Height standard.


 

Climbing Wall Association (CWA): Jesse, can you tell us about your professional background and what got you connected with the Work-at-Height program?

Jesse Williams (JW): In college I climbed regularly on an early 90’s generation plywood & plastic climbing wall, before graduating into a 23+ year outdoor climbing career. I started as a local rock & ice climbing instructor in the Adirondacks, and eventually became a fully certified AMGA Rock, Alpine, and Ski Guide (IFMGA Mountain Guide).

 

In 2015 I moved to Salt Lake City to work for Petzl America, which opened the door to training in the industrial safety, rope access, and fall protection industries. Salt Lake City is also on the leading edge of the indoor climbing industry, with both the Front and Momentum climbing gyms in town.

 

At that time, the CWA began to recognize a need for industry-specific training in Work-at-Height for climbing wall workers, because rope-access training and certification was thought to be too onerous. CWA partnered with the Petzl Technical Institute to provide ‘awareness’-level instruction and developmental workshops for the climbing gym industry.

 

I’ve stayed involved through the adoption of the standard and development of curriculum because I like the combination of sport and work environments, and I support the career professionalization of ALL climbing workers, indoors and out.

 

CWA: From your perspective, what is the purpose of the Work-at-Height program? What is it intended to accomplish for the indoor climbing industry, and why is it needed?

JW: Climbing wall workers have often relied on an informal mix of techniques for access and work positioning, mostly based on simple recreational climbing systems and a recreational climbing perspective on assumed risk. But this is work, not play, and as facilities have gotten bigger and taller, and more workers are employed in the industry, several factors are apparent:

  1. Workers exposed to a fall hazard are required by federal law to be protected from the hazard. Compliance with this is not optional. The Work-at-Height standard is intended to assist and support climbing gyms by making their duties clear, by defining terms, by defining a recognized set of industry standard practices, and worker training processes.
  2. Work practices in climbing gyms may not be immediately recognizable to regulators or inspectors from conventional industries, route forerunning might be an example, but if we can define what climbing workers do in the context of similar applications that have been standardized in professional climbing, industrial rope access, and fall protection programs, then we (as opposed to external regulators) can determine the best practices for our work, and thereby demonstrate our compliance.
  3. Climbing Wall Workers can benefit from learning to use and apply industrial access and work positioning systems like work seats, full body suspension harnesses, and mechanical advantage rope systems. These systems not only provide a higher degree of security, but are purposefully designed for work at height, allowing workers to work smarter and more efficiently, with less injury, over a long-term career.
  4. Commercial climbing gyms have changed the traditional path of climber development in terms of progressive technical skills and movement abilities. Many gyms already have their own culture of skill mentorship, and the Work-at-Height program defines common technical skills for climbing wall workers everywhere, and provides a structure and path for a worker to develop deeper technical proficiency beyond simple sport climbing skills.

 

CWA: Who should take a Work-at-Height certification course?

JW: Any climbing facility workers who are assigned job tasks that include ‘working at height’ (basically higher than 6 ft off the ground as defined by OSHA), such as routesetters, inspectors or maintenance workers, will benefit from the practical training with explicit instruction in the tools and techniques recognized in the standard, and insight into how other industries access and position for work and rescue.

 

Managers, owners, and operators benefit from an orientation to the regulatory environment, and instruction in the administration and management of a Written Fall Protection Program.

 

CWA: What are the applications of the Work-at-Height training for indoor climbing professionals? Why is it relevant to a climbing facility?

JW: The courses are taught in progressive steps – Competent Person and then Qualified Person.

 

After reviewing workplace safety regulations and relevant industrial and equipment standards, participants in the Competent course get into practical skill sessions, including:

  • Conducting a job hazard analysis
  • How fall protection controls are used to protect workers
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for work at height – selection and care
  • Comparison of sport and industrial fall protection systems
  • Improvised anchor construction
  • Belay management and load transfers
  • Rope ascending and descending systems
  • Selection of standardized access and work positioning methods
  • Tool & material hauling and positioning systems
  • Worker/Partner rescue

After mastering the practical skills, participants in the Qualified Person course also review the primary components of a Written Fall Protection Plan, Rescue Plan, and Worker Training Program and work with fellow participants to develop a template for their own operations.

 

CWA: What is the difference between Work-at-Height for Competent Persons vs. Work-at-Height for Qualified Persons?

JW: In industrial safety, the terms ‘Authorized’, ‘Competent’, and ‘Qualified Person’ are often used to define workers and their respective roles in a managed safety program.

 

Authorized Workers are those currently trained by their employer in the specific methods to be used for work at height within their facility/operation. Competent Workers are trained and assessed in standardized methods to access all of the potential work zones in a facility and to perform rescues of other workers (or participants) from those work zones. This course focuses primarily on those practical and applied aspects.

 

Qualified Workers are supervisory level - they should already be Competent Workers (or have the equivalent experience & abilities) and have taken on additional responsibilities for the management of a Written Fall Protection Program for their facility. This course focuses more on those administrative aspects.

 

CWA: What are the pre-requisites for Competent?

JW: Participants in these courses are often commercial and competition routesetters, Climbing Wall Instructors, and ‘hands-on’ operations managers in smaller facilities.

 

Adult (18+) Climbing Wall Workers taking the Competent Person course should:

  • have good modern belay technique on lead and top-rope (and it will be required by the host gym/training facility)
  • be able to comfortably lead 5.9 on artificial terrain, and to comfortably perform physically strenuous work at height
  • be familiar with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they use and the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to properly use, inspect, and care for it
  • be able to ascend and descend a rope
  • know how to construct an improvised two-person anchor on a climbing wall

 

CWA: What skills do students learn in Competent?

JW: Participants learn how to use a selection of recognized access methods, from belayed lead & aid climbing to industrial dual rope systems, for work on the front of a climbing wall.

 

On the back of the climbing wall, participants learn how to properly use industrial fall arrest systems for access and positioning, and the real challenges presented by confined spaces.

 

Participants also learn how to use rope systems to safely position larger tools and materials, and methods to rescue someone from an elevated work zone.

 

CWA: What are the pre-requisites for Qualified?

JW: Participants in these courses are often head routesetters, operations managers & directors, or very hands-on owner/operators.

 

Adult (18+) Climbing Wall Workers taking the Qualified Person course should meet ALL of the Competent Person course prerequisites, in addition to:

  • two-years work-at-height experience routesetting, or equivalent experience
  • “Work at Height for Competent Persons” certification or equivalent training and experience
  • knowledge/experience with the industrial fall protection hierarchy of controls
  • the technical ability to tie commonly used knots & hitches
  • the ability to ‘tie off’ a belay device for hands-free operation
  • the ability to haul material using a drop-proof rope system

 

CWA: What skills do students learn in Qualified?

JW: Participants first review the Competent Person technical skills and access methods, as the Qualified Person’s role is to perform a hazard assessment and then prescribe appropriate equipment, methods and training for their Competent Workers. They need to have already applied those skills at some point in their career.

 

The second half of the course is more classroom-based and focuses on the formal process of Job Hazard Analysis for various common work-at-height tasks in climbing facilities. The participants work together in a workshop format to develop a common template for their own Written Fall Protection Program.

 

CWA: Does the course provide equipment? What equipment do I need to provide for myself?

JW: The course provider will provide appropriate equipment for the course from an inspected and managed PPE inventory. Participants may use their own equipment, provided they have documentation that it has been inspected, is fit for service and is compatible with the application. Closed-toe shoes are required. Participants should bring their own gloves and eye protection and can use their own helmet if appropriate.

 

CWA: What does a facility need to be able to host a Work-at-Height course?

JW: A suitable host facility has:

  • a private ‘classroom’ or meeting space with tables and digital AV capabilities (projector or display screen) and guest WiFi access
  • an isolated training area on the front of the climbing wall with access to both top-rope and lead terrain, and (preferably) access to floor or ground level anchors
  • access to an open, well-lit, and clean teaching and practical training space behind the wall with exposed structure
  • a large volume climbing hold, pre-equipped with anchor hangers
  • an A-frame ladder, less than 20 feet in height, with stabilizing boards on the feet, moveable plywood or removable padding

 

CWA: What would you say is the future of the Work-at-Height program? Do you see it evolving?

JW: We have to embrace the idea of continuous improvement. I think training in these work practices can become part of the career progression for routesetters and operations managers in this industry that are eager to make it a long-term profession, and they will add demonstrable value to any operation with their expertise.

 

I am also eager to see how the professional routesetting community evolves and refines this too. Work-at-Height covers all work tasks in a facility, but I was encouraged at the 2018 CWA Summit to hear discussion of complimentary routesetting-specific programs that will use and reference the standardized Work-at-Height methods for their access and work positioning but will focus more specifically on the practical art and science of commercial routesetting. Continued input from the routesetting community is key, as they are typically the most skilled technicians in a facility.

 

My own role in this project is transitional, as a liaison between the worlds of industrial and professional climbing. We’ve had some very talented and experienced routesetters, managers, and climbers through the Work-at-Height program so far, and once they are oriented to the industrial safety tools, techniques, and requirements and have some time to develop them, I think we’ll see even more creative, effective (and compliant!) solutions specific to Work-at-Height in the climbing gym environment. Those trained and certified workers will be very valuable within the industry: to manage risk for workers and keep businesses protected.

 

Tags:  certifications  standards  work-at-height 

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