Lowering the risk of aerial adventures
What was once a means to access forest canopies for ecological research is now a rapidly growing adventure experience offered in many forests, amusement parks and ski resorts across the country. Many forest zip line tours continue to encourage ecology awareness and appreciation, while others are primarily promoting them as an aerial adventure to thrill-seeking tourists.
An estimated 18 million people fly via zip lines each year making it one of the fastest growing commercial adventures, according to the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT). But along with the excitement and thrills comes the risk of serious injuries if safety precautions aren’t taken and equipment isn’t properly maintained.
A typical zip line course consists of cables traversing and crossing a route that slopes downward across a forest, canyon, body of water, valley, or ravine. Access to the zip line is usually via ground-level platforms, stairways, or ladders. Participants are protected from falls with harnesses, lanyards,and clips ,and are often required to wear helmets. Speed and braking are controlled either by a guide, gravity or the participant.
The risk of injury to zip line riders is high, which is why the ACCT and ASTM are currently developing commercial zip line safety standards. Only Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia currently have zip line regulations.
A common injury suffered by zip liners is bone fractures, which are usually caused by participants falling from the access platform or slamming into the end station. However, much more severe injuries can and do occur. The best protection is in proper management by owners/operators:
- Design and construction: The zip line supports should be set in concrete for optimal bracing. The cable arc’s lowest point should be high enough to prevent riders from crashing into the final post. Rollers guards should be installed to prevent hand injuries. The starting platform should be protected and customers tethered while on the platform.
- Maintenance: Regular inspections should be conducted and documented. Daily inspections should made of all starting platforms, riding seats/handles and safety harnesses. Cable tension should be monitored and adjusted as needed. Harness and brake padding should not show signs of wear and tear. Cables should be replaced per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Supervision: Participants should take a trainer-led safety course prior to take-off and be monitored by trained staff at all times. An employee should be present at both ends of the course. Zip line guides and operators should be fully trained to screen clients, fit and inspect equipment, inspect and maintain the course,and rescue clients and evacuate the course. Zip line employees should also be CPR certified and trained in first aid. Minimum age and size requirements should be posted and no one not meeting the posted limits should be permitted to ride.
If you have questions or would like information on insuring your zip line, call Sadler Sports and Recreation Insurance at (800) 622-7370.
Source: Lothian Law, 27 May 2014