Artificial Climbing and 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

These guidelines apply to activities conducted on artificial walls or structures that are either indoors or outdoors, fixed or mobile.

Artificial walls can also be used for bouldering, which is traversing along the lower level of a climbing wall or structure at a height not greater than two metres.

Artificial walls are used to support the activity of ascending objects secured to a human-made wall or other structure. Artificial walls can also be used for abseiling, that is, descending with ropes and associated equipment.

Definitions

Belay — Refers to both the system and to the managing of the system that anchors a person who is at height.

Bouldering — A climbing technique where the climber traverses, rather than ascends, a wall or structure. Bouldering generally occurs close to the ground without a belay system.

Climbing gymnasium — A purpose-built facility that offers a variety of climbing structures with a variety of grades to support different abilities.  Typically, climbing gymnasiums offer equipment and instruction.

Lead climbing — An experienced climber ascends a wall or structure and connects a safety rope to anchor points as they progress. 

Single-pitch ground belay — A system that involves the climber starting next to the belayer with the safety rope going from bottom attachment point belayer up through an anchored point and down to the attached climber.  The climber will climb the wall or structure.  As they do so, the belayer will take the rope in to secure them.  Once the climber reaches the anchor point they will be lowered back down to the ground.

Spotting — A technique used for climbers close to the ground to protect the climber’s head/neck in the event of a fall.  The spotter maintains an alertness and proximity to the climber, allowing the spotter to use their open hands to provide support to the head and upper body of the climber in the event of a fall.

Environment

Artificial walls can be used in an indoor facility or outdoors on a fixed or mobile structure.

Staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity, when outdoors.  For more information, see: Environment

Location

Due to the unique nature of each location, the teacher responsible for the activity should specifically assess the suitability of the location before the excursion.

The choice of location should be based on 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 should 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 the educational objectives
  • the level of access to resources, services and facilities that may be needed, such as 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 remote the location is, the more self-contained and self-reliant the group must be and this must be taken into account in the planning of the activity
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the ability and fitness levels of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access current information and determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Staff need to be aware that severe weather conditions may develop before or during the proposed activity and should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

Communication

The communication strategy should enable staff 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 and the location of the activity.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the activity which enables communication with outside parties, including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of the communication strategy.
Weather

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

Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

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

Weather warning telephone services

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings on 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service on 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Coastal Waters Telephone Service on 1900 969 930 (call charge applies)
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667

The above telephone numbers may be useful to have available during the excursion.

Web links

Transportation

The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered and planned. For more information, see: Excursion support – transport

Activity

Student skills

For climbing to be safely carried out, students must use correct belay techniques. Correct belaying technique must be demonstrated, taught and practised. The responsibility of belaying must be emphasised. Staff must be vigilant in observing students while belaying and make sure that the belayer is maintaining a safe tension on the rope.

Each climbing team consists of a climber and a primary belayer. Where the primary belayer is a student, there must also be a backup belayer. 

If a student is wearing a harness, an appropriately qualified or experienced staff member must visually check the harness to ensure that it has been fitted correctly. 

When a climber or abseiler connects to a safety rope, they must use a recognised attachment knot, such as a figure of eight with a finishing knot. When connecting to a harness the correct attachment point, defined by the manufacturer, must be used. All attachments must be checked by a staff member before ascending or descending.

Where bouldering is being practised in the absence of floor padding, students must be trained in spotting techniques. Spotting must be supervised by staff.

The psychological preparation of students is as important as the physical preparation, especially for students who are anxious about the activity. Under no circumstances should students be pressured by staff or peers to participate beyond their readiness.

Equipment and clothing

Equipment, whether hired, borrowed or owned by the school or students, must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.

A log describing the use of all climbing equipment must be maintained by the owner and shown to the group leader on request.

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 severe and variable weather conditions. 

If the activity occurs outdoors, to protect against sunburn (see sun exposure) use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Students who own sunglasses should be encouraged to bring and wear them when required.

Glasses or sunglasses should be secured and long hair tied back to prevent catching in a belay device or other equipment. Loose jewellery must not be worn. Rings should be taped (if not removed). Items of jewellery or rings which students remove should be placed in a secure location so they do not get lost.

Identification

Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

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

Belay devices

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

Anchor points on the structure must satisfy engineering design regulations and be used in the manner for which they were designed.

It is recommended that belay devices are anchored with an engineered anchor point.

Harnesses

WorkSafe provides guidance on the use of Fall Prevention Systems and specifically cite AS 3533, Amusement Rides and Devices, and AS 1891, Industrial Fall Arrest Systems and Devices. See: WorkSafe  

Providers of artificial climbing and abseiling activities must refer to manufacturers and installers to establish appropriate operating parameters. These parameters must address the correct fitting and attachment of harnesses. The harness must also ensure the student or staff member will remain secure in the event of an inversion.

Harnesses must be regularly checked and replaced, if necessary, with a recommended maximum life span of five years.

Helmets

Helmets which meet UIAA standards or equivalent CEN or the Australian Standards must be worn by all students and staff climbing and those who are spotting or observing from below. Caps must not be worn under helmets. Before participating in a climb or going on belay, a check should be undertaken to ensure that the students have their helmet fitted correctly.

Ropes

Before the activity commences, an experienced staff member should inspect the ropes and the wall or structure.

Ropes used for climbing and abseiling on artificial structures must be rated for the intended load and style of use. These ropes must be stored in a cool, dry place free from ultraviolet light, chemical or physical hazards. The ropes should be logged and used in accordance with manufacturer recommendations and meet design standard EN 892 Mountaineering equipment - Dynamic mountaineering ropes, or similar.

Dynamic climbing ropes should be used on artificial walls and the diameter used will depend on local conditions and policy.

During an abseil session, systems which enable the arrest of an uncontrolled descent must be employed. For beginners, this must include a belayed safety rope. For more experienced abseilers, a bottom belay is acceptable. 

Shoes

Special climbing shoes are best for climbing on artificial walls. However, for lower-grade climbing, runners or boots are adequate. 

Climbing shoes or securely fitting shoes with good grip are appropriate for abseiling. Shoes must be securely fitted to prevent them from falling off during a climb.

People

Staff

Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity. 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 responsible for the activity 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 arise 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 its environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

The designated climbing and abseiling instructor(s) must hold one of the following:

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

Documentation of Staff Qualifications and Experience ​ (doc - 151kb) must be used by the designated instructor to document staff qualifications/experience in lieu of qualifications.

A guide to the knowledge and skills required by the designated instructor is as follows:

Required knowledge

  • the implications of relevant Australian and international standards on equipment use and performance
  • relevant State legislation impacting on roping activities
  • accepted industry best practice or recommendations (as specified in operating procedures, risk management guidelines, professional association's recommendations or current texts)
  • manufacturer's design specifications and recommendations for equipment use
  • the principles of anchor systems (equally shared load, single component failure and effect, redundancy, angle of separation)
  • the principles of belay systems and devices
  • different types of belay systems, e.g. top and bottom belays
  • technical climbing/equipment
  • advantages and disadvantages of various knots in a variety of situations
  • equipment usage in rescue situations
  • first aid appropriate to location
  • the selection and use of equipment for climb
  • the location

Required skills

  • personal climbing skills to a high level of technical competency
  • appropriate rescue skills

This set of skills and knowledge can be found in the National Recreation Industry Training Package SRO03 within the Unit of Competency, ‘Guide Climbing Activities on Artificial Surfaces’, SROCLA008A. For current information about relevant recreation industry training please refer to training.gov.au

When instructing in climbing and abseiling on artificial structures, instructors will be able to demonstrate:

  • competence in demonstration and use of harnesses, ropes and hardware
  • effective skills in demonstrating and implementing safe belay techniques
  • current experience in the planned activity
  • the ability to implement emergency response procedures in the event of a fall, equipment jam or failure or other foreseeable event
  • adequate knowledge of the students to manage behavioural, logistical, pastoral or medical issues.  

The designated assistant to the instructor must:

  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • be competent in emergency response procedures
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities

Documentation of Staff Qualifications and Experience (Word - 132Kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience of accompanying staff member(s).

Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, the guidelines for the use of External providers should be followed.

Supervision

Effective supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in adventure activities.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity. One staff member is to have responsibility for instruction in the activity and the other is to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for climbing or abseiling on artificial climbing structures. 

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

ActivityStaff requiredStudent numbers
Climbing212
 318
Abseiling21-2
 33

Staff must determine if students are capable of belaying.  The minimum age for belaying is 11 years of age.

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • needs of individuals
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location of the activity
  • anticipated conditions at the location

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

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

Overnight excursions

If the excursion has an overnight component, the Overnight camping guidelines may be relevant.

Informed consent

The school must receive consent from parents or guardians before 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, parents or guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing and signed 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 carefully consider 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 by staff.  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.

Common risks

School staff must refer to the Planning - Managing Risk section of this website which explains how to prepare a risk register.  Risks and possible controls are also explained.

The list below identifies some risks in climbing and abseiling activities.  Identifying risk is only one aspect of the risk assessment process.  An activity-specific risk management plan must be completed which takes into account the specific conditions and unique participants of the activity.

Climbing / abseiling specific risks
Sample risksSample controls

A failure of climbing/abseiling hardware or structure occurs and causes injury or death to students or staff. 

During pre-activity planning, staff will ensure that the facility meets design standards for the structure and climbing hardware.  Staff will visit the facility and review its risk management policies.

On the day of the activity, staff will conduct a visual safety site inspection.

Walls and structures will have appropriate Australian Standard engineering certification.

Equipment will be safely stored and used in accordance with manufacturer specifications and destroyed when damaged or when it has reached a defined time or usage threshold. This threshold is defined by local policy and accepted common practice.

 While bouldering, a student or staff member falls off the structure and hits the ground, sustaining soft tissue or skeletal injury.

On artificial bouldering walls, staff will ensure there is appropriately placed padding that is free from obstacles, tripping hazards or gaps. 

According to local requirements, spotting may be implemented.

Staff will continually monitor student harnesses, knots and the use of karabiners to ensure they are being used according to instruction and manufacturer specifications.  In particular, staff will check harnesses and attachments prior to a student climbing or abseiling.

During a climbing or abseiling session, a student or staff member falls and sustains a soft tissue or skeletal injury.

During pre-activity planning, staff will develop an emergency response strategy.  This strategy will consider possible responses should a group member require outside or medical assistance.

During the pre-activity planning, staff will consider students’ skills and experience and ensure that the session is suitable.  Strategies will be developed to help students to learn essential skills.

The pre-activity briefing will include training in the safe wearing of harnesses (checked by an experienced staff member to ensure that it is correctly fitted), and training in safe knot tying/attachment, belaying, back up belaying and effective communication.  Staff will ensure these instructions are followed.

 A student or staff member catches their hair, clothing or jewellery in climbing or abseil equipment causing injury or distress.

Staff will advise students that jewellery and rings must not be taken or worn, and suggest appropriate clothing (both in the pre-activity briefing and before the day of the activity).

Staff will ensure that hair, clothing and jewellery are appropriately managed to avoid injury or mishap.

Generic risks
Sample risksSample controls

A pre-existing medical condition results in injury or illness during the excursion.

Staff will collect and then review current confidential medical information for all students and staff.  Where uncertainty exists, additional information will be sought.

At least one staff member will have a minimum of a level two first aid qualification and a first aid kit, which is appropriate to the activity and the environments to be encountered.

Medical information will be carried by staff on the excursion and referred to as necessary.

At the start of the excursion, staff will ensure that there is no new illness that may have an impact on the ability of the affected student(s) or staff to participate.  Consideration will also be given as to whether that illness might spread to others in the group.

The emergency response strategy will include communication and evacuation procedures.

Staff or student fatigue results in incident and/or injury.

During the planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the activity is suitable.

The group will adopt appropriately timed rest stops.  Food and water breaks will match the activity intensity, weather conditions and the group’s abilities.

Food and water intake will be monitored during the excursion to ensure all participants are eating and drinking adequately.

Staff will monitor each student and consider strategies to support the group and individuals.  This may include altered intensity and loads, changing the activity, obtaining outside support, evacuations or cancellation of the activity.

Warm or cold weather conditions lead to a temperature-related illness.

Staff will consider the skill, age, experience and maturity of students and staff when determining the activity, season and venue.

Clothing and equipment will be suitable for the planned season and venue.

Staff will plan and/or adjust the activity in response to foreseeable and prevailing weather conditions.

The emergency response strategy will include responses for when students and/or staff are affected by heat or cold.

A group is caught in severe weather or a thunderstorm resulting in injury.

The chosen venue, activity and season will be appropriate to the group.

Staff will obtain regular Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts for the specific area they will be in and, if necessary, adjust the activity.

Staff will observe the weather before and during the activity and adjust the activity accordingly.

Staff will consider exposure to tree and lightning hazards.

The emergency response strategy will include possible responses should severe weather or a thunderstorm occur.

A transport accident occurs while travelling to or from the venue

The vehicle must be appropriately insured and maintained.  Where the vehicle is a bus, it must be regularly inspected by a licensed bus tester.

Drivers will have the appropriate drivers licence and certificates for the planned journey.  Drivers will perform a daily vehicle check (see the Victorian Bus and Truck Drivers Handbook,​ Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws (see transport) all drivers will take sufficient breaks from driving.  Drivers will also be sufficiently rested prior to driving.

Drivers will allow sufficient time for the planned journey and adjust speed to suit the driving conditions.

A student or staff member suffers a bite or sting causing illness or death.

Students and staff will have clear and relevant clothing/equipment lists, which reflect the possibility of bites or stings, and have appropriate first aid equipment.

Staff will carry current and confidential medical information for all students and staff participating in the activity.  Staff will ensure there are appropriate medications available and an emergency response strategy to support a worsening condition.

Resources

Relevant documents
External resources