Challenge Ropes Courses

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

Challenge ropes courses are designed to present physical and mental challenges to individuals and groups. They are a combination of low and/or high elements.

Challenge ropes courses may include activities such as log balances, walls and flying foxes.

WorkSafe Victoria states that ‘The risk of serious injury or death from a fall increases significantly if you are working at heights over two metres.’ Therefore, students using high elements of a challenge ropes course must be thoroughly prepared and closely supervised while on the course. In particular, staff must give careful consideration to the method of moving between elements and the potential for students to be without safety attachments.

Definitions

Ascender — A mechanical device used to grip and/or climb a rope.

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

Descender — A piece of climbing hardware typically used to grip a rope using friction to belay or to lower from high elements on a challenge ropes course.

Dynamic belay An anchor system which uses a dynamic rope attached to the person at height, passes through a pulley or karabiner above them and is kept tensioned by a belayer or belay team below.

High element Any element for which the participant’s safety can no longer be achieved by spotting and requires safety systems such as harnesses, belay systems, specialist safety equipment or other established methods or systems.

Karabiner — A specialised clip typically used for joining ropes and harnesses during rope activities.

Low element An element for which safety is achieved through safe and effective spotting (which must protect the participant’s upper body and head).

Prussik loops A loop of rope with a multitude of uses, in particular, to grip a larger diameter rope in rescue situations.

Spotting Spotting involves the partner of a participant undertaking a low ropes element standing in such a way as to be able to break the participant’s fall should they slip off the element. Students who are spotting must be taught the spotting procedure for the specific course and be supervised throughout.

Spotting also occurs on high elements, where the partner of the participant provides a visual check of progress and may also belay them.

Static belay An anchor system which requires a person at height to attach themselves to anchor points. Typically, this involves the use of a pair of karabiners, attached to the climbers harness with loops of webbing.

Environment

When preparing for challenge ropes activities, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity. Further information is available at 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.

Challenge ropes course activities must not be conducted during thunderstorms or when lightning is likely to occur.

Staff should carefully consider whether the activity should continue during wet and/or windy weather. The activity should not proceed if the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a Severe Weather Warning for the area.

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— see Excursion support – transport.

Activity

Student skills

Students should be progressively taught the skills needed for safe participation in challenge ropes course activities. Specific skills that must be introduced to students include:

  • correct fitting and care of harnesses and helmets
  • spotting
  • belay technique
  • clipping onto belay ropes and other protection on high elements
  • effective communication.

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.

Low ropes

When using low elements on a challenge ropes course, staff must ensure there are at least two spotters for each participating student. Spotters must be briefed on their responsibilities, trained to spot correctly and carefully supervised during the activity.

Students should be briefed on each element as necessary, with particular attention given to the way in which they dismount from the course – accidents can occur due to inattention when dismounting.

High ropes

Before each student’s participation, a qualified or appropriately experienced staff member must visually check to ensure that the harness has been fitted correctly and that the attachment has been checked. Each student’s belay technique must also be assessed.

Where a dynamic belay is in use, each challenge ropes team consists of a participant and a primary belayer. Where the primary belayer is a student, there must also be a backup belayer. Where a static belay is used, the participant must have a dedicated observer.

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

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.

Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, environment and season. Items which are recommended not to be taken or worn (such as jewellery or rings) should be identified.

Glasses or sunglasses should be secured and long hair tied back to avoid being caught in belay devices or other equipment. Loose jewellery must not be worn and 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.

All objects should be removed from pockets before participating. Gloves may be appropriate on elements involving a dynamic belay.

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.

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.

Course construction and security

The construction of challenge ropes courses is an expert field and should be undertaken by qualified individuals and/or organisations specialising in the planning and construction of ropes courses.

Contractors must provide written confirmation that the materials, equipment and installation meet current industry requirements.

Staff must ensure that challenge ropes course elements are not accessible when unsupervised.

Maintenance

The owner of the course must carry out regular formal maintenance inspections which are fully documented and endorsed by an independent industry expert. Operators must be able to provide written evidence that a maintenance check has been conducted. Before each activity, the instructor should carry out a visual inspection of the course to ensure there are no obvious impediments to normal operation.

An accurate written record of all challenge ropes course safety equipment must be maintained and accessible on request.

Belay devices

Belaying devices must meet Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) standards, Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN) standards or the Australian equivalent. Devices must be in good working order.

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. 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. See: WorkSafe

Helmets

On low elements, participants are protected by spotters, but there may be occasions where a combination of the teacher’s knowledge of the group and the elements being used suggest that helmets should be worn.

Where helmets are provided for use by the site operator for a low ropes challenge ropes course, they should be worn by participants.

Helmets which meet UIAA standards or equivalent CEN standards must be worn by all students and staff using high elements and by those belaying or observing from below. Caps must not be worn under helmets.

Ropes

Ropes used on a challenge rope course must be used in accordance with manufacturer recommendations and meet design standard EN 892 Mountaineering equipment - Dynamic mountaineering ropes, or similar.

Before the activity commences, an experienced staff member needs to inspect the ropes.

The ropes' history and maintenance needs to be logged and the ropes must be stored in a cool, dry place free from ultraviolet light, chemical or physical hazards.

Shoes

Participants must wear covered and firmly fitting shoes with a non-slip sole

Rescue Equipment

Rescue equipment specific to the ropes course must be accessible at all times.

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 apply to 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.

Low ropes

The designated low ropes instructor(s) must have and provide evidence of having the following knowledge and skills:

Required knowledge

  • types of low ropes courses (linked and independent)
  • function/mode of operation of common equipment used in low ropes course construction, including the following:
    • eye bolts
    • wedging devices
    • wire rope grips
    • shackles
    • thimbles
    • rigging screws
    • turnbuckles
    • staples
  • safety issues with respect to low ropes course use
  • group management during an outdoor activity.

Required skills

  • communication skills to convey safety procedures and the importance of adherence to procedures
  • observation skills to make sure the activity is conducted in a safe manner
  • group facilitation skills to make sure the activity is conducted in a positive and constructive manner.

High ropes

The designated high ropes instructor(s) must have and provide evidence of having the following knowledge and skills:

Required knowledge

  • the implications of relevant international, Australian and industry standards pertaining to equipment use and performance
  • manufacturer's design specifications and recommendations for equipment use
  • safety procedures including communication procedures, belay systems and risk management strategies
  • the principles of belay systems and devices
  • knots and their limitations
  • the advantages and disadvantages of different belay systems, methods and devices
  • the types of pulleys and situations in which they should be used, including belay pulleys, shear reduction pulleys and flying fox pulleys
  • the types of challenge ropes courses (linked and independent)
  • the function and mode of operation of common equipment used in challenge ropes course construction
  • safety issues with respect to high ropes course use
  • minimal impact issues, e.g. impact to trees, tree root systems and flora and fauna relating to challenge ropes courses
  • group management during an outdoor activity
  • suitable sequencing within an adventure-based program to achieve objectives
  • the selection of anchors for personal and client safety systems, where required.

Required skills

  • equipment use and maintenance skills
  • skills in vertical rescue techniques
  • communication skills, to convey safety procedures and importance of adherence to procedures
  • observation skills, to make sure the activity is conducted in a safe manner
  • group facilitation skills, to make sure the activity is conducted in a positive and constructive manner
  • programming skills, in order to develop and/or adjust a program to achieve client goals.

This set of skills and knowledge can be found in the National Recreation Industry Training Package SRO03 within the Units of Competency, ‘Supervise a High Ropes Session’, SROCRP004A and ‘Supervise a Low Ropes Session’, SROCRP003A. For current information about relevant recreation industry training please refer to: Australian Government Department of Education and Training

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

The designated high ropes assistant to the instructor must:

  • be able to fit and check harnesses for safety and comfort
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • be able to competently assist in emergency response procedures, including CPR
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

Documentation of Staff Qualifications and Experience (doc - 151kb) 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 challenge ropes courses.

ActivityStaff requiredStudent numbers
Low elements

2

3

1–24

25–36

High elements

2*

3*

1–12

13–18

*On High Elements, staff must directly supervise each belay transfer.

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 Risk Management 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 challenge ropes courses. 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.

Challenge ropes course specific risks
Sample risksSample controls

A student falls from height due to poor belay technique or poorly fitted harness, resulting in soft tissue or skeletal injury

Pre-activity planning will consider whether the planned challenge ropes course session matches the maturity and abilities of the group.

There will be a pre-activity safety briefing, including demonstration and practice of belay systems/techniques.

All participants will wear correctly fitted helmets and harnesses. These are to be checked at the start of the activity and throughout the activity, especially when a harness is removed or adjusted.

Each participant will have at least one designated observer while on high elements of a challenge ropes course.

A student or staff member slips or trips over, suffering a soft tissue or skeletal injury.

Students will wear firmly fitting, covered footwear with a non-slip sole.

Spotters, belayers and observers will be briefed on their responsibilities and closely supervised.

A suitable number of spotters on low element courses will be provided.

During a belay equipment changeover at height, a student mistakenly unclips and falls causing serious injury.

Pre-activity planning will consider whether the planned challenge ropes course session matches the maturity and abilities of the group.

Changeovers at height will be carefully explained, demonstrated, practiced and observed by a staff member.

A student or staff member catches their hair, clothing or jewellery in 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 skills, 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 & Truck Drivers Handbook​, Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, 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