Abseiling

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Abseiling (sometimes referred to as rappelling) is an activity in which a person descends a rope in a controlled manner with the use of a friction device or descender.

Abseiling may be used to descend a cliff face as part of a rock-climbing program or it may be practised as a separate activity.

These guidelines apply to abseiling on natural rock cliffs, not on artificial structures.

Forward-facing descents (sometimes referred to as Geneva or rundowns) are not recommended.

Environment

Rock environments

Rock environments are usually hardened and elevated landscapes commonly referred to as cliffs or crags. Geologically their origins are diverse. The elevation of rock environments offers a vantage point from which unique perspectives can often be drawn. Where surrounding landscapes have been disturbed, rock environments may be a refuge for remnant flora and fauna and thus require sensitive use and management. Vegetation in rock environments is susceptible to damage by human activity and effects can be long lasting.

When preparing for activities in rock environments, consider how to minimise the environmental impact of the experience. See Environment for further information.

Location

Due to the unique nature of each location, a specific assessment of suitability should be made prior to the trip.

Your choice of location should be based upon the recent and first hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff. Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support your educational objectives
  • the level of access to the resources, services and facilities that you need or would like to use. These might include campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance, in the event of an emergency, or extreme weather conditions. The more effectively remote your location is, then the more self-contained and self–reliant your group must be
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the activity ability and fitness of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access up-to-date management information and to determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Groups need to be aware that extreme weather conditions may develop prior to or during the proposed trip. Staff should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

When selecting abseiling locations, consider:

  • the soundness of, and safe access to, anchor points
  • a safe area away from the cliff edge/face for anyone who is not participating in the activity
  • the ability of the belayer to see the abseiling student throughout the descent.
Communication

Your communication strategy should enable you to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the program and to enable communication with outside parties including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your communication strategy.

Weather

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the program and on the day the program commences. If the program extends overnight, monitor and assess the weather throughout and based on that information access daily weather forecasts and warnings.

Weather conditions can change rapidly. Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at anytime.

Weather warning telephone services:

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings: 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service: 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 240 667

These telephone numbers may be useful to have available on your program.

Web links:

Transportation

The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered.

  • Vehicles used to transport students must comply with VicRoads registration requirements.
  • Drivers must comply with all licensing requirements.
  • Equipment carried inside vehicles must be securely stowed.
  • Students must be supervised by a minimum of one adult, in addition to the driver, during travel.

Drivers of vehicles with up to and including 12 seats (including the driver) require a current drivers licence.

Drivers of vehicles with 13 or more seats (including the driver) require a current licence appropriate for the vehicle and must:

In circumstances where a teacher or staff member is to drive a vehicle transporting students the program should allow for them to have adequate rest prior to driving consistent with the national driving hours regulations.

Hazardous areas

Buses with a capacity greater than 12 seats entering prescribed hazardous areas during the declared snow season must have an annual hazardous areas inspection and a current certificate. The driver must also hold a current Hazardous Areas Authority. The driver must also carry the required equipment for hazardous areas. Information about Victorian Hazardous Areas requirements can be obtained from VicRoads including information specific to bus travel in snow fields.

Activity

Student skills

Students must be instructed in the use of the safety equipment including harnesses, helmets and descending devices.

Proper belaying technique and back-up belaying technique must be taught. The responsibility of belaying must be emphasised. All student belayers must have a belay backup. A belay backup normally consists of another student holding, or also belaying, the belay rope. Belayers must be vigilantly monitored by staff.

Equipment

Students must be instructed in the use of the safety equipment including harnesses, helmets and descending devices.

Equipment must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity. A log of use of all climbing equipment should be maintained by the owner.

Proper belaying technique and back-up belaying technique must be taught. The responsibility of belaying must be emphasised. All student belayers must have a belay backup. A belay backup normally consists of another student holding, or also belaying, the belay rope. Belayers must be vigilantly monitored by staff.

Belay devices

Use only belaying devices that are in good working order and meet Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) standards or Comite Europeen de Normalisation (CEN) or the Australian equivalent.

Friction devices

Friction devices offer varying amounts of friction and ease of use. Staff must be familiar with the device intended to be used in a school program and be familiar with their characteristics when used with people of different body weights.

Harnesses

Harnesses that meet EN 12277:1998 or the equivalent UIAA or Australian standards and are in good working order must be correctly fitted and secured. Students and staff must be vigilant in ensuring that harnesses are correctly refitted between sessions or after removal.

Helmets

Helmets that meet UIAA standards or equivalent CEN (EN 12492) or Australian standard must be worn by all students and staff when rock climbing or in the vicinity of the rock face.

Ropes

Approved abseiling ropes are rated as either single (1) or half (1/2) ropes and are normally 50 metres in length. Static ropes (10 mm to 11 mm) are ideal for abseiling. Half ropes are not to be used as the abseil rope. However, dynamic single ropes (10 mm to 11 mm) can also be used for abseiling. Either single (10 mm to 11 mm) or half (8.5 mm to 9 mm) dynamic ropes can be used as belay ropes.

Abrasion of abseil ropes frequently occurs where ropes rub against the cliff. Rope protectors or padding are recommended and help prolong rope life. The protector must be rigged to ensure it cannot be dislodged onto the abseiler or increase the likelihood of dislodging rocks.

Attachment of the abseil rope to the harness is the single most important skill in abseiling. The belay rope should be secured to the abseiler with a return figure-of-eight knot and the descending device attached with a screwgate karabiner.

First aid kits

First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.

Clothing

Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against extreme and variable weather conditions. Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, the environment and the season.

Gloves may be used at the discretion of the instructor.

Special shoes are not necessary for abseiling. Sturdy runners or boots with pliable rather than stiff soles are adequate. Participants must wear shoes at all times.

Glasses should be secured and long hair tied back so as not to be caught in belay device or other equipment. Loose jewellery should not be worn and rings should be taped if not removed.

To protect against sunburn use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Hats must not be worn under helmets.

Identification

Staff and students must be easily identifiable. Staff must determine the most suitable system/s of identification, based on the assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken and the age and number of students.

People

Staff

Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the program. All staff members must be approved by the school council.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher present must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If the teacher is not the designated instructor he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will be involved in any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

The designated single-pitch abseiling instructor/s must have one of the following:

  • a Single Pitch Guide award accredited with the Australian Climbing Instructors Association
  • equivalent documented abseiling training and experience from another training provider or education institution
  • equivalent documented abseiling experience in lieu of certification/accreditation.

These guidelines concern abseiling on natural cliffs, so the instructor/s must be able to rig safe anchor systems and effectively manage belay systems. For this reason abseiling skills in the context of general rock climbing experience are desirable. Instructors must also have recent abseiling experience at the site.

Equivalent training and/or experience includes staff having experience and knowledge of:

  • two abseiling locations, including the one to be used
  • set up of secure and efficient top rope and abseil teaching systems using a variety of belays and sites
  • group management procedures for conducting students safely and efficiently on single-pitch climbs
  • self-rescue techniques relevant to single-pitch situations
  • site choice in relation to safety, environmental factors and outcome for the participant
  • teaching techniques and group management
  • environmental and land-management issues.

The designated assistant to the instructor must:

  • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • have the ability to participate competently in emergency response procedures
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

Proforma Staff Qualifications/Experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience in lieu of qualifications.

Supervision

Supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity, one with responsibility for activity instruction and the other able to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for abseiling.

(Note: Students not directly involved in abseiling, must be supervised separately with a minimum staff student ratio of 1 to 10.)

ActivityStaff RequiredStudent Numbers

Single-pitch Abseil (novices)

2

2

3

1

2

3

Single-pitch Abseil (advanced)

2

3

4

up to 4

5 to 8

9 to 12

Multi-pitch Abseil (experienced)

2

3

4

Up to 4

5 to 8

9 to 12

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:
  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • individual needs
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location conditions.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy that must be endorsed by the school council as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members will supervise students according to that strategy.

Informed consent

The school must receive informed consent from parents or guardians that their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school or by parents/guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing, including signatures, by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must consider carefully the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students to determine the level of first aid training required. For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present. See: Excursion Support – First Aid.

Definitions

Abseiling novices - participants who have not previously undertaken abseiling or have not recently abseiled in a similar rock environment.

Experienced abseilers - participants who have previously, successfully and confidently undertaken abseiling in a similar environment and are competently able to secure their harness and attach to the abseil and safety ropes.

If staff are unsure about the experience of students they should assume they are novices.

Multi-pitch abseil - a descent occurring in stages, requiring participants to change abseil ropes at each stage.

Risks

This list identifies risks likely to be inherent in any abseiling activity. A program-specific risk management plan must be completed that takes account of the specific conditions and unique participants of the excursion/program.

Common risks
Sample RisksSample Controls

Fall from height

Pre-activity safety briefing on belay systems and cliff environment.

Direct supervision of students at all times by staff.
All participants to wear correctly fitted helmets and harnesses.

Students to be briefed to remain at least two metres from the cliff edge.

Anyone who is operating within two metres of the cliff edge must be on belay or tethered to a secure anchor.

Student belaying

Choose an appropriate system for use by students. Instructional staff to directly observe belaying by students.

Provide a clear belay brief and then assess each student’s ability to belay.

Slips and trips

Correct footwear to be worn by students.

Clear instruction on how to descend.

Entanglement (hair, clothing, jewellery)

Participants to remove all jewellery prior to commencement.

Participants with long hair to tie back hair prior to abseiling.

Clothing to be tucked in. Ensure belay devices are free of potential entanglements.

Falling objects (including rocks)

Review site for loose rock prior to abseiling.

Do not drag ropes or other equipment which may dislodge rocks.

Teach calls to warn of rock fall and appropriate protective response

Excessive speed while descending

Appropriate belay system to slow descent.

Resources

Proformas
Abseiling resources
General resources

Rock climbing

Rock climbing is the process of ascending cliffs. Separate guidelines have been developed for Rock Climbing