Artificial climbing structures

WorkSafe is reminding employers of the risks associated with indoor artificial climbing structures and their safety equipment.

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Published: 12 October 2022

Background

Since March 2022, four people, including children, have fallen and been seriously injured when using artificial climbing structures. These falls have been caused by equipment failures or misuse through inadequate supervision.

Artificial climbing structures ('climbing structures') include climbing walls, ladders and other structures at artificial climbing venues and children's play and activity centres.

Safety issues

Safety equipment, such as the automatic belay system ('auto belay') or harness, can fail during use if it is not properly maintained.

Most users of climbing structures at play and activity centres are children. Children need more attention and supervision than adults do, to ensure they use the facility and equipment safely.

Children should be closely supervised when using climbing structures, to ensure they obey the rules for safe use and use the safety equipment properly. Where children have not been adequately supervised, they have fallen from heights after not connecting the harness to the auto belay, either correctly or at all. A child's harness should always be checked by an employee before they climb, to ensure it is correctly connected and secured to the auto belay.

Controlling risks

Information, instruction and training

Employers must provide employees with the information, instruction, and training needed for them to be able to competently assess the safety of a person's harness and their secure attachment to the auto belay before they climb. Information, instruction and training must also be provided on how to adequately supervise climbers, especially children, and on inspecting and maintaining the safety equipment.

Inspection and maintenance

Climbing structures and safety equipment should be inspected daily for:

  • wear such as cuts or fraying on ropes or the webbing of auto belay or harnesses, which could cause the material to snap during use
  • wear on parts such as the pins on safety keys and the connector locking mechanism, which could allow the user to be insecurely attached and cause them to fall
  • damage to the climbing structures, which can leave sharp edges that could cut the harness or auto belay webbing and cause them to snap or fail, and
  • the presence of safety or product information labels on the harness, which state when the harness should be destroyed or thrown away

Before they climb, climbers should be closely inspected:

  • for jewellery, watches, rings and wristbands, which could get tangled in the equipment or cut or fray the rope, harness or auto belay webbing, and
  • to ensure that they are properly connected to the safety system

Climbing safety equipment should be maintained to the manufacturer and supplier directions or recommendations in the user manual. The table below gives inspection examples consistent with AS2316.

Inspection type
Interval
Typical actions

Commissioning

Post installation and before use

Check the structure was installed to the manufacturer's instructions and industry guidance. Proof test as directed by the manufacturer and/or industry guidance.

Pre-operational (routine visual inspections)

Daily

Visually inspect equipment and verify that it is safe and functioning. Check all equipment for obvious signs of damage, excessive wear, changes in configuration etc. Check everything is working as designed. Remove unsafe equipment from use or close off unsafe structures.

Operational

Every 1-3 months, depending on use

Review logbook entries, make adjustments as needed, assess anchor points and fixings, remove unsafe items, close off unsafe structures etc.

Comprehensive

At least every 12 months

Thoroughly test and inspect safety-critical parts, which may require equipment to be disassembled. Assess the condition of items against the recommended acceptance/rejection criteria and get a quantitative measurement where relevant. Note: Inspections needs to be done by competent, independent persons not involved in the day-to-day operations of the facility.

Table note: WorkSafe Victoria acknowledges that the information in this table is drawn from guidance published by SafeWork NSW

As well as the above, an appropriate inspection and maintenance program should include:

  • scheduled daily, monthly, and annual inspections (see table above) of climbing equipment and structures, including the wall or structure, harnesses, auto belay, matting and floors
  • record when equipment was first used so it can be identified and destroyed or thrown away when past its recommended service life
  • after an incident, fully inspect all equipment to ensure it is suitable for use, including climbing walls or structures, harnesses, auto belays, matting and floors. Note that some flooring manufacturers state that the floor needs to be inspected and replaced if it has been impacted by a fall greater than a given height, such as 3 metres

Supervision

Climbers should be supervised to the level needed for their age and skill level. Supervision should include:

  • employees roaming throughout the activity area, including planned roaming paths and designated stationary positions (for larger venues) with overlapping field of view
  • providing effective ways for employees on the floor to communicate, such as hand-held two-way radios
  • set a minimum user age that needs a supervising adult and refuse entry into the climbing area if underage or without an adult
  • give a pre-activity briefing on safe play and use rules:
    • explain the various safety equipment and demonstrate correct use, including connecting to the auto belay and how to check that the harness is correctly locked in place
    • employees to choose and fit correct harness to climbers
    • explain that climbers must wait for an employee to check that their harness is properly connected to the auto belay before they can climb
    • explain exclusion zones under each climbing structure
    • explain outcomes of not complying with safe play and use rules, such as immediate removal from the area, and
    • explain how to report an unsafe situation or damaged equipment
  • have an employee-to-climbers supervision ratio:
    • consider the user group, including ages, physical abilities, any special needs that the climber has, experience levels, and the difficulty of the activity
    • have set session times for bookings and limit the number of spots
    • lock or restrict access into the climbing activity area when a session starts or the maximum number of climbers is reached
    • limit the equipment available for use to the supervision ratio, and
    • specify areas for different skill levels and ages where more supervision is given, such as an area for beginners or children, or a more complex activity

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, an employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees of the employer, such as children attending a play and activity centre, are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer.

Related information

  • AS2316 series of technical standards on artificial climbing structures and challenge courses, including AS2316.1.1:2021 'Artificial climbing structures and challenge courses - safety requirements and test methods for belayed climbing and abseiling structures'
  • Manufacturer and supplier equipment documents and manuals

If you're unsure what to do, contact WorkSafe's Advisory Service for more information. If you identify any issues with equipment at a children play and activity centre, please contact WorkSafe's Advisory Service for more information.

WorkSafe Advisory Service

WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.

1800 136 089 More contact options