Become A Member   |   Newsletter Sign-Up   |   Print Page   |   Sign In
Thrive - A Climbing Business Blog
Blog Home All Blogs
The Climbing Wall Association's blog is a place for indoor climbing professionals to find useful and relevant information from industry and business experts. Stay on top of best practices, thought leadership, and trends by subscribing to Thrive - A Climbing Business Blog! www.climbingwallindustry.org/lines

 

Search all posts for:   

 

Top tags: operations  leadership  management  staff training  community development  company culture  risk management  customer experience  customer service  coronavirus  COVID-19  human resources  marketing  programming  employee engagement  customer satisfaction  member retention  climbing culture  routesetting management  member communications  routesetting  staff retention  standards  OSHA  youth team  youth training  coaching  member acquisition  certifications  employee turnover 

Climbing Gym Workplace Health & Safety for COVID-19 - Part II

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Thursday, June 18, 2020
Workplace Safety Discussion COVID-19

In Part I of this article, I provided information about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for the health and safety of employees and practical approaches to managing workplace health and safety.

 

There are many unanswered questions and areas of legal concern, so the remainder of this article is going to focus on those areas. I’m including this section to discuss some of the more nuanced areas in workplace safety and health during the pandemic.

 

Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney – the views expressed here are my own opinions. You should seek legal expertise if you have additional questions or concerns.

 

On Guidance

The guidance provided by OSHA and CDC, are just that, guidance. The guidance does not create any “new legal obligations” – the recommendations are “advisory” in nature. OSHA does not have a designated pandemic enforcement branch that’s issuing citations for workplace violations. In fact, they have issued a memo about discretion in enforcement during the pandemic. As I’m sure you have noticed, the guidance across localities and agencies has, in many cases, conflicted. However, there are long-standing laws on health and safety, which have been in existence for years, that we are can apply as we see fit. The lack of clear directives has the potential to create legal issues between employees and employers.

 

Right now, there are industries, like hospitals, the meat-packing industry and online retail/distribution industries (i.e. Amazon) that have experienced extreme challenges in keeping their workforce safe during this pandemic – thankfully, climbing gyms are not in the same category as these businesses. I anticipate a number of lawsuits will originate from workplace health and safety issues as a result of systemic violations within these industries. The best approach for climbing gyms is to make a concerted effort to protect the health and safety of employees. In doing so, you are acknowledging that there is a hazard that must be addressed and taking action to protect your workforce.

 

To Mask or Not to Mask

The decision to have gym staff wear masks or not depends on local, state, and federal requirements, as well as virus trends in each region, the physical size of a facility, and each gyms’ health and safety program approach. One might demonstrate that masks are not necessary because the 6-foot distancing rule is able to be maintained. A gym owner has the authority to require masks of employees. Be careful, considerate and specific when setting policy. Do you have employees that have asthma or other issues that make it difficult for them to wear a mask? Is the policy flexible enough to allow employees to remove their mask for certain duties? Are disposable masks being used or cloth masks? If cloth masks are being used, how are they being cleaned?

 

Carefully consider the issuance and use of N95 respirators. Except under special circumstances, I would advise against them. Do not require over-protection of employees and then fail to protect them. If you issue an N95-respirator to an employee there are additional training requirements, there are fit-testing requirements, and a pre-use medical evaluation is required. OSHA has issued some guidance about the flexibility in use of N95-respirators for health care workers that may apply, but it is unclear if this applies to other industries. However, another reason to not require N95-repirators is that they are still in limited supply for front-line health care workers and they should be reserved for their use. Look to other means of control instead of N95-respirators.

 

Requiring the public to wear masks while in the gym is another issue entirely. We know that cloth face coverings are intended to protect people other than the user and more recent data suggests that there is some minimal level of protection to the wearer. This presents a unique set of challenges for the staff. The mask policy you implement for the public will have to be administered by the staff – they will be in the position of having to enforce that policy. To minimize the possibility of conflict, provide training to employees of how to deal with difficult customers and how to deescalate tense situations.

 

Though it is tangential to the scope of this article, violence in the workplace is a real concern. Since the pandemic, there have been multiple incidents where a customer has disagreed with a local business policy (i.e. having to wear a face covering) and the customer became disgruntle, was hostile, or resulted in violence. Thankfully, there have not been any such instances in climbing gyms that I am aware of. Communicating clearly with the public about your gym policy on face coverings is very important. Set expectations up front and take a positive approach to the benefits of wearing face coverings.

 

Policies

Having a policy and adhering to it are two different things. Maintain policies in writing. If you make a policy, stick to that policy. If the policy needs to be changed, document it. I am explicit in stating this because the origins of lawsuits are often rooted in the difference between what was written and what was done. It behooves the employer and the employee to have clear written policies that are abided by. That does not mean that a policy cannot be revised, if need be, but make sure that change is documented and communicated.

 

Communication

In the context of this pandemic, communication is key. Listen to and get feedback from staff. If we are to continue to improve, we need open lines of communication between members, the public, and staff. Part of creating a positive workplace safety culture is communication.

 

Written Safety and Health Programs

While many climbing gyms have safety rules and practice safe work practices, most do not have written health and safety programs to protect workers. I would encourage gym owners to take a serious look at developing comprehensive workplace safety programs that raise the level of professionalism in the industry and serve to protect workers.

 

In Conclusion

There is no singular “right way” to approach health and safety in the workplace. The “best approach” climbing gyms should take in protecting workers will vary based on a number of factors. If there is any consolation for climbing gym owners and staff, it’s that there is a collective of talents and resources available to draw from.

 

Everyone is eager to get back to work and back to climbing. In order to do so, maintaining the health and safety of our workforce will remain critical to the success of our industry.

 

Additional Guidance and References

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center School of Public Health and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) pursuing his Certified Safety Professional (CSP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). He has over sixteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  workplace safety 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Climbing Gym Workplace Health & Safety for COVID-19 - Part I

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Workplace Safety COVID-19

It’s an understatement to say that climbing facilities have a lot to deal with right now. In addition to contending with the financial implications of getting members and customers back, gyms have to think about the various local, state, and federal rules for reopening. The decision to reopen for business comes down to a combination of issues that need to be weighed, each with their own risks. Among these issues is the safety and health of gym staff. The OSHA General Duty Clause requires that, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employee.” [OSH Act 1970]

 

Front desk staff, instructors, coaches, routesetters and the like are the faces of our industry and the first-line points of contact with the climbing public. Maintaining their health and safety during this pandemic is essential to keeping gyms safe and open for business.

 

This article is divided into two parts. The first part provides information about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for the health and safety of employees and practical approaches to managing workplace health and safety. Part II, which will be published next week, is a discussion section that is more interpretive and used to address specific questions related to legal issues and liabilities.

 

We must acknowledge that we are in unprecedented times for the climbing gym industry and small business as a whole. The playbook for such a pandemic is being written (and re-written) as we speak. There is some reliable information about the disease and transmission, but it is important to recognize that our understanding of “best practices” during this ongoing pandemic may change. However, there is a lot we can infer from infectious disease, in general, and that knowledge, along with existing evidence-based and peer-reviewed research and public health expertise, can act as a framework to advancing our position. The guidance provided here has been adapted from our current understanding of infectious disease controls, current workplace standards, and the best available science and public health policy, to date.

 

PART I – The Systematic Approach

Reopening Safely

The decision to reopen comes down to a number of factors. There are many types of gyms in different locations, with different populations and different local and state requirements. The focus here is on the aspects of the health and safety of employees. After reading through these questions you may realize that there is work to do. By taking additional time to think through these questions, discover answers, plan, and take a systematic approach you will be better prepared, more protective of your workers, and more likely to have a successful re-opening.

 

Consider the following questions:

  1. What is the prevalence of the virus in the community? (Monitor WHO, CDC, as well as local and state health departments.)
  2. Are there local, state, and federal orders that allow for reopening?
  3. Do we have appropriate health and safety policies and programs in place? If not, where are the gaps?
  4. What hazards are posed to staff?
  5. Have we adequately communicated with the staff and what are the concerns of the employees?
  6. What workplace controls are needed to protect staff?
  7. Do we have an infectious disease Emergency Response Plan for dealing with an outbreak?
  8. What enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures will be needed?
  9. Do we have adequate and appropriate PPE for employees?
  10. What additional staff training is required and how will we accomplish it?
  11. What human resource policies need to be adjusted to accommodate for sick or at-risk employees? (ADA and HIPPA requirements must be followed.)
  12. How will we track/measure the success of our policies?

Means of Exposure

We know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to the disease COVID-19, is a novel virus (i.e. new, or not previously identified), for which there is currently no vaccine. As such, the best approach for one to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus [CDC].

 

The virus spreads easily between people. The most common and likely route of exposure is person-to-person contact. Current research suggests that the most likely path of transmission for the virus is via liquid droplets from a carrier of the virus. These droplets may remain aloft in the air during exhalation, talking, sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc. Droplets may also be transferred from other parts of the body, most commonly, the hands, to the face (mouth, nose, and eyes).

 

A secondary means of the virus spreading may be through contact with surfaces or objects. Once droplets are present on a surface the viability of the virus is based on a number of factors, including but not limited to, the amount/quantity of droplets, type of material (i.e. plastic, metal, glass, wood, vinyl, etc.), and other variables. Research has shown that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain viable for a number of hours and up to a few days depending on various factors [NEJM Study].

 

According to credible health sources, COVID-19 is not spread through perspiration (sweat) however, items touched by many people in a gym (e.g., handholds, hangboards, ropes, carabiners, rental equipment, fitness equipment, etc.) could possibly pose a risk for transmission of settled respiratory droplets [Johns Hopkins School of Medicine FAQ].

 

Extrapolating from what we know about modes of transmission, in a climbing gym the most likely route of exposure would be through face-to-face interactions and direct contact with the patrons and co-workers. Other routes of exposures would be via communally handled or touched items coupled with a lack of good personal hygiene. Things like climbing walls, holds, volumes, ropes, rental shoes and harnesses, as well as other commonly touched areas around a gym including the front desk, keyboards/keypads, phones, waiver stations, door handles, and railings, provide the possibility of virus transfer.

 

Workplace Hazard Assessment

Identifying tasks where exposure may occur and addressing those areas ahead of time is a vital part of the process. A Workplace Hazard Assessment helps to systematically identify and address the risk to employees.

 

Climbing gyms have a high throughput of individuals and the amount of interaction and “contact” is relatively high compared to other workplaces. Based on the OSHA Occupational Risk Pyramid for COVID-19, many climbing gym workers align with the “Medium” exposure risk category. Medium exposure risks include those jobs that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e. within 6 feet of) people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2 but who are not known or suspected. The Lower exposure risk category include those jobs that do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of having SARS-CoV-2 and frequent close contact is not likely to occur. This may pertain to those employees that work away from the public in an office.

 

A Hazard Assessment does not have to be a complex exercise, but it should be a written document that demonstrates that you went through the process. Performing a Hazard Assessment is the starting point for the next part of the process: Workplace Controls. [OSHA Hazard Assessment Tool].

 

Workplace Controls

Approach workplace safety from a systematic approach by implementing a hierarchy of controls. The best approach to workplace safety is likely going to require a combination of these controls. The purpose of the hierarchy of controls is to work from the “most effective” to the “least effective.” It may be that installing HEPA Negative Air machines throughout your gym is a highly effective control, but that may not be practical. Then again, there may be adjustments you can make to your existing HVAC system that improve it efficiency. Move through the hierarchy and then consider the administrative controls and finally, Personal Protective Equipment.

 

Engineering Controls

Engineering Controls are those controls that are design-based approaches and tools to keep workers from being exposed. The benefits to this approach are that they offer the highest level of protection and do not rely on worker behavior to be effective. An additional benefit is that these controls often are equally effective in providing protection to your customers. These controls include things like:

  • HEPA filtration units
  • High efficiency air filters
  • Increase of ventilation rates
    • Get fresh air into the gym
    • Maximize ventilation by using fans
  • Installation of physical barriers like acrylic sneeze guards
  • No-touch door opening-closing devices

Some drawbacks to engineering controls include the initial costs for the purchase of equipment, and limitations in types of exposures that are controlled. However, it is important to consider in your cost-comparisons the long-term benefit of engineering controls – there may be other benefits, like improved air quality, that are long term. An engineering control does not necessarily eliminate the hazard (i.e. the virus) but may offer an added level of protection.

 

Administrative Controls

An administrative control requires an action by the worker or the employer. These are changes in workplace policies and work procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. These include:

 

Flexible Work Schedules

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home without penalty.
  • Limit operational hours.
  • Change work shifts and alternating work days.
  • Perform routesetting off-hours when the public is not present.

Physical Distancing

  • Implement a social distancing plan for employees and public alike.
  • Limit the number of people in the gym.
  • Use physical barriers to create distancing and segregate areas.
  • Mark zones and minimum 6-foot intervals on the floor and pads.
  • Consider separate entrances and exits.
  • Instruct at a distance.
  • Consider the use of video and remote learning tools for training.
  • Limit access to fitness training areas.
  • Keep instructor to student ratio low.
  • Do not shake hands.

Employee Training

  • All employees must receive training about the gym’s health and safety policies and safe work practices.
  • Training must be administered if face-coverings/masks are being required.
  • Train employees on the importance of hand washing and proper method for hand washing.
  • As applicable, train employees on the proper housekeeping, cleaning, and disinfection methods.
  • Hazard Communication training should be provided on the safety and proper use of cleaning and disinfecting products. (Note: OSHA and the CDC have printable flyers available on their websites that can be posted.)
  • Training is required for how to put on and remove gloves.
  • If an N95 respiratory is being required, it must be within the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program. (See additional notes about the use of N95 masks in Part II.)

Other Controls

  • Use an on-line sign up system.
  • Enable electronic payments and limit face-to-face transactions.
  • Provide hand washing stations at the front of the establishment or alternatively, hand sanitizer if not feasible.
  • Provide no-touch trash cans.
  • Supply no-touch hand sanitizing devices.
  • Provide tissues.
  • Establish “before and after” rules for hand washing.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The use of Personal Protective Equipment is an important tool that can be used to minimize the likelihood of exposure. PPE for SARS-CoV-2 include things like cloth face coverings, gloves, protective eyewear or facemasks, and respiratory protection. Employers are obligated to provide their workers with the PPE needed to keep them safe during work (29 CFR 1910.132).

 

It is important to distinguish between what we mean by face coverings vs. Respiratory Protection. Surgical masks and face coverings are intended to trap droplets expelled by the user, they may protect others from the wearer of the mask but are not substantial enough to protect the wearer from an inhalation hazard. More recent guidance from the CDC has noted that some minimal level of protection is afforded to the wearer against droplet exposure. On the other hand, a respirator – such as an N95 NIOSH-approved respirator (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH) has a rated level of protection to the wearer. There are additional requirements for a worker that wears an N95 (or half-face or full-face) respirator. Workers must be part of a comprehensive written respiratory protection program that includes fit-testing, training, and a medical evaluation. (29 CFR 1910.134)

 

While PPE is a valuable component of your health and safety controls it is not a substitute for good hygiene and physical distancing.

 

Requirements for PPE include:

  • Training on the proper donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) of masks and gloves
  • Proper disposal of used PPE to avoid contamination

Employers should be aware that cleaning products and disinfectants may contain hazardous chemicals that could be harmful to workers. When workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals (such as sanitizing agents) additional personal protective equipment (PPE) is required. Additional guidance for these specific areas can be found in OSHA’s Hazardous Communication standard (29 CR 1910.1200), in the PPE standard (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) and in the section specifically related to Housekeeping for hospital environments, which may apply here.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2. Review product labels and Safety Data Sheets and follow manufacturer specifications.

 

Emergency Response Plan

Every climbing facility needs to consider the scenario where a presumed positive COVID-19 person has entered their facility. For this reason a workplace specific emergency response plan is necessary. CDC guidance recommends the following:

  • Be prepared to change your business practices, if needed, to maintain critical operations.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan. Identify key contacts (with back-ups), chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating about business and employee status.
  • Share your response plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations. It is important to let employees know plans and expectations if COVID-19 occurs in communities where you have a workplace.
  • In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person:
    • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets.
    • If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.

For Gym Owners

In addition to considering and incorporating the above items into your plan, consider the following as well:

  • If you do not already have one, designate a health and safety officer or a team. If that is not possible, seek outside expertise. A professional or company who specializes in workplace health and safety programs who has experience with climbing facilities is preferred.
  • Using the guidance herein, along with the additional references, develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.
  • Develop a phase-in reopening plan. Your phased in plan should have measurable targets and contingencies in the event of changes.
  • Develop procedures for the prompt identification and isolation of sick employees.
  • Develop a wellness questionnaire. Employers have the right to require employees to participate in health screenings and monitoring programs for the purposes of protecting the workplace. A number of apps are coming to market that may help to monitor employee illness. Give additional consideration employees who are in an elevated-risk category as defined by the CDC (consult ADA). (Notes: Confidentiality of health data must be maintained and any health screenings should be made as private as possible.)
  • COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. Certain conditions apply including that it must be a “confirmed case” (i.e. presumptive positive test that was laboratory confirmed), the case must be “work-related,” (29 CFR 1904.5) and the case must meet certain criteria for days away from work and have required medical treatment (29 CFR 1904.7).
  • Reduce and limit in-person staff meetings and gatherings.
  • Work with your local health department in tracking cases and staying abreast of the ongoing trends.

For Employees

Employees have an important role to play in maintaining their own health and safety and in protecting their co-workers, the public, and the gym.

  • Evaluate your health and do not come to work sick.
  • Communicate with your manager about your condition.
  • Report unsafe conditions to management.
  • Abide by all physical distancing guidelines.
  • Wear face coverings at work and out in public when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Participate and seek training for the proper use and limitations of PPE.

Our Work Here Is Not Done

It's clear that our understanding of best practices during this pandemic may change and the situation is evolving on a daily basis. In Part II of this article, I will focus on some of the unanswered questions and areas of legal concern. Keep an eye out for this information covering the more nuanced areas of workplace safety and health next week.

 

Additional Guidance and References

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center School of Public Health and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) pursuing his Certified Safety Professional (CSP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). He has over sixteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  hygiene  management  operations  OSHA  PPE  regulations  risk management  sanitization  staff training  workplace safety 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Creating a Positive Workplace Culture for Safety in the Climbing Gym

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Safety Culture

In this article we will take a look at how we can take a positive approach to creating a culture for safety in the climbing gym environment. At the end of the article, be sure to download our one-page quick reference guide to developing a safety program.

 

The term “Safety Culture” was coined by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In their summary report, ‘safety culture’ was pointed to as an underlying cause for the catastrophe. It was used as an explanation for the attitudes, actions, and systemic failures that led to the cascading effect of failures.

 

Over the years, ideas about ‘safety culture’ have evolved with research but the concepts, application, and understanding of what creates a broader “culture for safety” remain vital.

 

The Case for Workplace Safety

First, it is important to distinguish between those risk management issues that we deal with at a customer/patron level versus those at an occupational level. A customer chooses to accept a certain level of risk, most often via a liability waiver, in order to participate in climbing activities.

 

Juxtapose this with an employer who has a duty, to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards “likely to cause serious physical harm or death” and “comply with occupational safety and health standards.”[1] Likewise, each employee must also comply with health and safety rules, regulations, and standards, in addition to gym policies and procedures.

 

Besides the legal obligation that workplace safety is a requirement, there are other worthwhile reasons to move towards a pro-safety workplace.

 

Morally, it’s the right thing to do! Climbing gym employees and employers are often a collective of fellow climbers and friends. In such a community, we look out for each other.

 

Another reason is that there’s a business case for safety. A recent study found that workplace safety influences customer satisfaction, “suggesting that there are likely spillover effects between the safety environment and the service environment.”[2] This study showed that customer satisfaction and a company’s safety climate and injury rates were “significantly correlated.”[3]

 

Although the research was conducted in the electrical utility industry, and no specific research has been conducted correlating climbing gym customers and worker safety, it’s worth considering the parallels within service industries as a whole. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when employers take the safety of their employees seriously, they benefit through customer loyalty. In other words, a safe gym environment translates to a safer environment not only for your employees but to the customer as well.

 

Finally, a good safety program reflects a level of professionalism. Climbing walls/gyms in the modern age are legitimate operations that offer lifelong careers and provide health and fitness opportunities for generations of climbers. Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and desire to have lasting employment in a professional environment. Having written programs and systems in place is a key component for demonstrating that employee safety, health, and wellbeing are core values.

 

Safety Culture Characteristics

Looking to lessons from the nuclear power industry again, they identified five basic characteristics of a culture for safety that we can adapt to the climbing gym environment:[4]

  1. Safety is a clearly recognized value
  2. Accountability for safety is clear
  3. Safety is learning driven
  4. Safety is integrated into all activities
  5. Leadership for safety is clear
Safety Culture Characteristics

Each of these characteristics has specific attributes that contribute to sustaining safety culture.[5] For example, in order for safety to be a clearly recognized value (item 1), safety conscious behavior must be socially acceptable and supported by the employer and employees alike.

 

Item 3, “Safety is learning driven,” means that a questioning attitude prevails, that learning is encouraged, and assessments are used and tracked.

 

And for item 5, “Leadership for safety is clear,” the commitment to safety should be evident at all levels, and management should build trust to ensure continual openness and communication with individuals.

 

Positive Safety Leadership

Management reacting solely when there is an incident is short-sighted and ineffective. In a reactive safety environment, employees hide or do not want to report an injury for fear of retaliation or punishment. Consequently, blaming an employee rarely results in a positive outcome or a safer workplace.

 

Instead, management should take a proactive approach to make accountability a positive not a negative. Rather than focusing on blaming someone for a mistake, focus on what it takes to remedy the situation and enabling workers to practice safe work habits.

 

Accepting that hazards are inevitable and there is always the possibility of an accident, involve employees and work towards solutions that are meaningful to them. Positive reinforcement does not mean incentivizing employees for safe work but instead rewarding them through recognition and praise when someone does something well.

 

Measuring Safety Progress

Data have shown that there can be prolonged periods of time between incidents, but an unsafe working environment can still exist. The traditional approach, simply measuring accident rates is not a good means of determining if you have a sustainable safety program.[6]

 

In order for us to confirm that we are on the right track with our safety program, we have to be able to measure key components of the program.

 

Good data begins with selecting the right things to measure. Focus on measuring positive performance aspects of your program like:[7]

  • Safety Activities
  • Participation Rate
  • Perceptions
  • Behaviors
  • Conditions

Track the behaviors of workers on things like accident prevention, reporting unsafe situations, taking corrective action, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and participating in training. For example, track the use of protective eyewear rather than the number of eye injuries.

 

Gym Program Areas

Below are some of the program areas that may be relevant to your climbing wall or gym. This is not a comprehensive list as activities vary among facilities, so it is important to consider all the potential hazards and program areas.

 

Within each of these areas there are specifics that need to be tailored to the facility while keeping in mind OSHA regulations, state and local laws, insurance requirements, and industry standards.

  • Fall Protection – Comprehensive for routesetters and awareness level for other employees. Include training on dropped object prevention.
  • Portable Ladder Safety
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Emergency Action/Response Plan
  • First Aid/CPR
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Spill Response
  • Slips/Trips/Falls
  • Access/Egress

Example Scenario

Take a look at the following situation and consider the questions that follow:

 

A loose hold on a top rope climbing wall is reported to the front desk staff person by a member. Unfortunately, no routesetter is available but the staff person, who has some experience tightening holds, is eager to help, and takes it upon themself to address the issue. In an effort to tighten the hold quickly the staff person avoids getting a stepladder, extension ladder, or using a harness/rope system and instead climbs about eight feet high. In the course of tightening the hold with an impact wrench, the staff person slips from another loose hold, lands awkwardly, and seriously injures their back.

  • What contributing factors might have resulted in this accident?
  • What areas for improvements are there?
  • If you were in a management role how would you communicate with the employee? How would you communicate with other staff?
  • What can be learned from and improved upon from this incident and how is that communicated?
  • What other proactive measures might be considered going forward?

Clearly, the intentions of the staff person were good, as they were attempting to demonstrate good customer service and be proactive in remedying the situation on their own. But unfortunately, the choices the staff person made resulted in their injury.

 

For this situation a number of other variables would exist based on the facility itself. We might want to explore if there was a system or rule in place for who is authorized to address climbing wall maintenance. From there we could determine if the person was authorized to tighten holds and if they had the appropriate training. Other things we would want to look at would be the standard work practice for climbing wall work, do we allow someone to climb and set or should they be working off a ladder, lift, or via a harness and rope system?

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know there is a weakness in our program until something goes wrong. Part of moving towards a culture for safety includes anticipating various types of incidents and proactively addressing them, but that’s not always possible. We have to accept that even the best programs can have gaps and take a productive approach.

 

In this case, the focus would be on improving the systems, communication, and training that can prevent future incidents from occurring and then tracking those changes going forward.

 

In Conclusion

Maintaining a positive safety culture is a process. There will always be pitfalls and areas for improvement.

 

The National Safety Council sums it up best by stating, “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

 

Download our cheat sheet for a quick-reference resource containing guidelines for developing a safety program!

 

References

  1. OSHA General Duty Clause
  2. Does employee safety influence customer satisfaction? Evidence from the electric utility industry, P. Geoffrey Willis, Karen A. Brown, Gregory E. Prussia, 2012, Journal of Safety Research
  3. Can Worker Safety Impact Customer Satisfaction?, Laura Walter, EHS Today
  4. Chernobyl: 30 Years On - Lessons in Safety Culture, Aerossurance
  5. Culture for Safety, International Atomi Energy Agency
  6. Building the Foundation for a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew, EHS Today
  7. 5 New Metrics to Transform Safety, Terry L. Mathis, ProAct Safety

Resources

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer service  human resources  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  staff training 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Effective Workplace Training

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Workplace Training

Of all the methods of managing risk that climbing facilities employ, a robust training program is one of the most effective means of reducing accident rates for visitors and workers alike.

 

Studies have consistently shown that the likelihood of an accident is higher in the first month of employment and decreases with time. One study in particular that examined workers’ compensation claims [1] showed that workers on the job were four times more likely to have an accident in the first month compared to workers that had been employed for a year.

 

Therefore, timeliness in training new employees or employees that have been assigned new duties is critical to ensuring their safety.

 

Training, with all its methodologies, approaches, analysis of retention, measures of effectiveness, etc. is a wide-ranging, voluminous topic. This article touches on a few of these areas but focuses primarily on safety and health program training and presents some guidelines for improving your local program.

 

At the end of this article are some links to training resources and articles that may be helpful in evaluating and improving your current program.

 

Types of Training

The purpose of training, by definition, is to impart a particular skill or type of behavior such that it improves performance. Training is intended to prepare a person for a job, a task, or a specific set of circumstances.

 

There are multiple approaches and methods of delivering training: web-based, audio-video, operational, experiential, lecture, coaching, and in-service or on-the-job training are a few forms. A sound approach is to ensure the training translates directly to the workplace.

 

While there are web-based modules available that “check the box” for a training requirement, these are not necessarily the most effective means for ensuring an employee is competent in a particular area. To achieve a level of competency, one should customize the learning to their facility and circumstances.

 

Safety and Employee Orientation Training

Workplace safety training is a requirement to protect workers from injuries and illnesses. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.9 Subpart A [2], states that, “The employer must train each affected employee in the manner required by the standard…” based on the type of work performed, an analysis of workplace hazards, and a worker’s level of responsibility.

 

The type of safety training required is based on the type of work performed and varies with departments. Some specific programs to consider include the following:

  • Fall Protection, Including Slips, Trips, and Falls
  • Emergency Action Planning and Fire Prevention Plans
  • Powered Platforms, Manlifts, and Vehicle-Mounted Work Platforms (for those facilities that use this equipment)
  • Occupational Noise Exposure (Hearing Protection)
  • Electrical Safety
  • Confined Space Entry (for controlled access areas behind or inside climbing walls)
  • First Aid, CPR, and AED
  • General Housekeeping and Storage

 

Training for Specialized Work

Specialized work includes job tasks that are unique in nature and require particular skill sets, techniques, and equipment in order to accomplish the work.

 

Routesetting is an example of specialized training. There are key elements, based on the terrain (i.e. bouldering, top-roping, lead terrain), the tools (ex: impact drills), and the equipment (ex: aerial lifts and ladders).

 

Beyond the technical and creative aspects of creating functional and worthwhile routes, safety is paramount for routesetters. It’s important to identify those requiring specialized training and only allow those who have received training and demonstrated a sufficient level of competency as authorized to perform such work.

 

In other words, if a staff member has not received formal training on work-at-height and routesetting they should not be performing that work unsupervised.

 

The Evaluation Phase

Hosting a brief “tailgate meeting” safety session about a topic and assuming everyone is trained is not sufficient to ensure competency. Incorporate an evaluation phase into training wherein employees are challenged on their understanding and performance and a measure of retention can be determined.

 

Evaluations can differ in form and function based on the type of training but some examples include quizzes, peer assessments, and skill challenges followed by constructive feedback.

 

Written Programs

A written training program is the roadmap that drives your training program. A well-conceived written training program is not burdensome – it sets expectations, identifies requirements, and acts to empower employees and management alike.

 

It is used as a policy document that shows what your training standards are, it helps to ensure everyone is receiving an appropriate and consistent level of training, and it provides a reference from which to work.

 

At a minimum, an annual review of your training program should be performed to check on changes to facilities, equipment, tools, and work practices – your training program should be updated accordingly and subsequently, refresher training should be performed and documented.

 

Training Development

When workers have a voice in the workplace and input about how training is developed, training programs are more effective. It is often the employees that come to know their tasks and working conditions the best and are acutely aware of the hazards.

 

Your staff can point out the strengths and weaknesses in a program. Incorporate employee input into the development and delivery of training.

 

Retraining and Refresher Training

According to OSHA, retraining is required when there is a change in work practices, tools, or procedures. For some programs, refresher training is required.

 

However, even if refresher training is not required, it is a good habit to ensure employees have the necessary level of competency.

 

Continuing education opportunities are a great means of ensuring that knowledge is being disseminated through the team, that problem areas are being addressed, and that there are not gaps in work practices. Likewise, refresher trainings, skill assessments, and certifications should be documented.

 

Training Records

You have probably heard the saying, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” The same goes for documenting training.

 

Typically, if a worker is injured and there is an investigation or claim one of the first questions is: “Did the employee receive adequate training to do the job?” If the answer is “yes,” but you do not have the documentation, then there is no record of when or if the training actually occurred.

 

OSHA recommends that employers maintain training records for a period of five years, but requirements may vary based on state laws and insurance. The best practice is to maintain a record of all training and certifications for each employee.

 

Setting up a training record system can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Not sure where to start? Download our sample training tracker as an example resource.

 

In conclusion, an effective training program is essential to maintain worker safety, accomplish work effectively, and meet State and Federal regulations, and insurance requirements. Involve your employees, implement a robust program, and don’t leave the program on the shelf - review it, refine it, and adjust it as necessary.

 

References:

[1] Trial by fire: a multivariate examination of the relation between job tenure and work injuries
[2] Training Requirements in OSHA Standards

 

Additional Articles:

- Exceed Safety Training to Increase Operational Learning and Safety at Work
- Training Effectiveness - A Quality By Design Approach

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  certifications  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Chalk Dust: Mitigation & Source Control

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, June 10, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Dealing with chalk dust is something that climbing gyms are entirely too familiar with; everywhere there are climbers, there’s chalk. Most gyms implement chalk mitigation strategies, whether it’s a never-ending cleaning and vacuuming circuit, installing a chalk eater, or a state of the art HVAC system.

 

The father of modern bouldering, John Gill, who had a background in gymnastics, is credited with introducing chalk to climbers at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1954. While its effectiveness at increasing friction was immediately apparent, climbing purists objected to chalk and considered it an ethical dilemma. Not only was the use of chalk to improve grip and keep hands dry considered to be a questionable ethical advantage, it, additionally, builds up on holds and permanently discolors the rock.

 

While today the use of chalk is considered par for the course, in climbing gyms, chalk presents issues as it gets onto practically every available surface and the airborne particles affect air quality. The standard acceptance of chalk use places gym owners and managers in constant reactive mode, which means that in order to implement a successful mitigation strategy, the gym has to stop being reactive and become proactive. This is easier said than done.

 

What is Chalk?

The main ingredient in chalk is magnesium carbonate, also known as MgCO3· nH2O, it’s an odorless, dry fine or bulky powder. In addition to being used for climbing and other sports, magnesium carbonate is widely used as an antacid, an anti-caking agent in food and in personal care products. Pub Chem notes that magnesium carbonate is listed as a safer chemical by the EPA. It is known as a green circle chemical and has, “…been verified to be of low concern based on experimental and modeled data.” Pub Chem also notes that it has been reported to cause eye and skin irritation, with exposure routes topically on the skin or eyes and through inhalation, with recommendations to wash or rinse the skin or eyes with fresh water, or to breathe fresh air. As an inhalation it is noted that a “nuisance-causing concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed.” Which gym owners and staff know, as the air in gyms can appear hazy at peak times. Which leads to many questions about how chalk dust affects indoor air quality.

 

Indoor Air Quality

With HVAC systems running into the tens of thousands and chalk eaters cost nearly $2000 to clean 5000 square feet of gym space, understanding the basic of chalk particles and air quality is necessary to making good decisions on how to mitigate chalk in your gym. Airborne particles of chalk are known as particulate matter (PM). Understanding how air borne chalk particles affect air quality means understanding some basics of indoor air quality (IAQ). The EPA defines indoor air quality as, “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

 

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are:

  • Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles, such as VOC’s.
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants: Vehicle or building exhaust, plumbing vents
  • Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, insects, bird droppings and viruses.
  • Physical contaminants: Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air (which can include soil, dust, metals, organic chemicals, sulfates and nitrates).
  • Inadequate ventilation: Indoor pollutant levels can be increased by not bringing in enough outdoor air and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the building.
  • High temperature and humidity levels: High temperature and humidity are related to increased concentrations of some pollutants.

 

Size Matters

Visible dust on the floor, or surfaces of the gym is unsightly and messy, but unless it’s disturbed it’s not creating problems for air quality. Gym members can and will complain about chalk covered surfaces and greasy holds that have a build-up of chalk, sweat and skin oil. When you see chalk dust on the floor or on a surface it’s very fine, like talc, what you are seeing is a bunch of sub-micron particles lumped together to make a larger particle. It’s the smaller particles of chalk, the ones you don’t see or recognize that affect air quality.

 

The EPA is concerned about particles 10 micron or smaller because these particles are inhalable. These particles once inhaled can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. But it’s important to note that the EPA concerns are based on outdoor PM levels, which are well studied and documented. Outdoor PM effects on human health are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air. However, less is known about the specific impacts of indoor PM on health. PM is found in all indoor environments.

 

Due to poor ventilation and other contributing factors, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels, indoor levels can be gauged by MERV rating. MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value this rating was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers - ASHRAE. MERV values run on a scale from 1 to 16 and gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system in a building or indoor space. For instance, if your HVAC system has a high MERV rating, it is more efficient, meaning that the filter will trap more airborne particles. But filters alone don’t make for effective air cleaners: you have to figure in air flow through the HVAC system and how clean the air filters are. A dirty or clogged air filter or using a filter that is too restrictive may result in low air flow and could cause the system to malfunction.

 

90% of chalk dust is estimated to be 5 microns or less, it’s very very small. A "micron" is a unit of measurement and is an abbreviation of the term "micrometer". One micron is a millionth of a meter (1/1,000,000 meters) or about .00004 inches. Steve Smith with Camfil USA, a company that develops and produces air filters and clean air solutions, has extensively studied, how chalk particles fall. On average Smith says, in a controlled environment it takes 5.7 seconds for a 6 micron and bigger chalk particle to fall 10 feet. But, Smith says, chalk particles 5 microns and smaller are so small that gravity doesn’t have an immediate effect on them and it can take up to 33 days for them to fall down out of the air, but in areas that have air flow, the particles are constantly being moved and lifted. Chalk particles of 1 micron or less become permanent dust as gravity has no effect on particles of that nano size.

 

The physics of air flow creates a challenge when it comes to getting chalk dust out of the air. It’s difficult to generate a sucking air flow that is strong enough to pull the particles out of the air, so particles are removed by blowing particles through the air from one air cleaner to the next to collect all the sub atomic particles.

 

There are three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:

  • Source Control: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of PM or pollution or to reduce their emissions.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. This reduces the level of contaminants and improves indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Air Cleaners: An effective air cleaner is an efficient collector of PM and has high air-circulation rate.

 

When athletes and climbers are engaged in physical activity, they have an increase in respiratory minute ventilation which has a proportional effect on increasing the quantity of PM that is inhaled. Additionally, an increase in airflow velocity can deliver PM deeper into the respiratory tract. It is known that PM of 5 microns and smaller can enter the lungs and bloodstream where they can build up and cause health problems.

 

What is known about people who are exposed to poor IAQ is that they can experience health effects at the time of exposure or even years after breathing it. Symptoms can include: eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

 

Are There Effects of Breathing Chalk Particles?

There is no known research on the effects of humans breathing in chalk dust. Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a Pulmonary Physician with the University Of Utah Hospitals And Clinics and a climber herself, does research on the effects of outdoor pollution. The effects of breathing in climbing chalk is a topic that she has spent quite a lot of time thinking about. Dr. Pirozzi notes that to her knowledge there is no published data on the specific health effects of humans breathing in magnesium carbonate and that it isn’t known what the PM 10 or PM 2.5 concentrations in indoor climbing gyms are, “these are two big research questions that we need information on,” says Dr. Pirozzi.

 

Higher occupancy rates and the type of activity developing in the gym effects indoor air quality as athletes and climbers increase CO2, while high occupancy also influences PM concentrations. Dr. Pirozzi says that, “concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are going to vary quite a bit due to building characteristics, the filter, MERV rating, climbing traffic and time of day.” Generally speaking, Dr. Pirozzi can talk about the health effects of particulate pollution, but she thinks it is unknown how much particulate pollution climbers are exposed to in gyms.

 

A 2008 study and a 2012 study on chalk dust concentrations and reduction strategies both measured very high levels of particulate matter during busy hours. Dr. Pirozzi says, “This shows that climbing gyms may have very elevated levels of particulate matter, but there are likely many factors that would influence those levels. It would be interesting to evaluate with the newer filter systems.”

 

OSHA has standards of permissible exposure limits for magnesium carbonate that consider both the concentrations of magnesium carbonate in the air and length of exposure, however without specific data from gyms, there is no way to determine the air quality and how much , if any, magnesium carbonate indoor climbers are exposed to. The question Dr. Pirozzi wants to know the answer to is; are there different health effects from exposure to magnesium carbonate compared with other PM? The answer to this question, she acknowledges lies in study and research.

 

Source Control

The simplest approach is to implement reduction strategies, to reduce the amount of chalk dust in the gym and you’ll reduce the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces. Considering the ritual most climbers have regarding around the way they chalk up before a climb, or can obsessively chalk up while on a route, it’s not realistic to ban chalk. But there are strategies between all or nothing that can be implemented.

 

Specify the Type of Chalk and the Delivery Method Members Use

Many gyms ask members to not use loose chalk, asking members to use chalk balls or liquid chalk instead. A 2012 study on the air borne concentrations of multiple types of chalk using chalk balls, pressed chalk and powdered chalk. The study determined that with the exception of liquid chalk; chalk balls, pressed and powdered chalk leads to airborne chalk particles, the concentration of which is determined by traffic in the gym. While chalk in a chalk ball does not lead to a significant reduction in airborne particles compared to regular block chalk, it is worth noting that the chalk ball does prevent spills. But the study is clear in stating that chalk balls did not lead to a reduction of airborne particles. In comparison ethanol based (liquid chalk) led to the same low mass concentrations of airborne chalk particle as banning chalk entirely.

 

Educate New and Existing Members on How to Chalk Up

In general climbers use too much chalk, says Kevin Brown of FrictionLabs. A climber for over 20 years, Brown says it all too common for climbers to use too much chalk and cake it on their hands and fingers. Too much chalk he explains actually acts like a dry lubricant, and he notes that generic chalk contributes to the problem, as climbers tend to use more of it and it gets spilled. FrictionLabs recommends that climbers use less chalk and employ a layering strategy: apply a base layer of liquid chalk then reapply small amounts of loose chalk as needed, the liquid chalk base will reduce the total amount of chalk the climber uses in a session. Brown states, “just like there is a belay test and safety talks about the skills that climbers need, climbers need to know about chalk. Chalk creates a huge mess in the gym and no one really talks about how you should use chalk.” When you put chalk on your hands initially, Brown says, instead of reaching down into your chalk bag repeatedly for more chalk, you can move it from one hand to the other, distributing it from your palms to your fingertips. Layering with liquid chalk works by filling in all the nooks and crannies, and creates a good base layer climbers will need less additional chalk as they climb. Climbers don’t need a completely chalky hand to have a good grip, Brown notes that there’s a real opportunity for climbers to use chalk smarter.

 

Putting It All Together

Installing HVAC systems, chalk eaters, or implementing cleaning protocols impacts your bottom line either in major capital expenses or ongoing increased labor, this is considered a reactive approach, cleaning up after the fact. It’s nearly unimaginable that gyms could or would ever ban all types of powdered chalk, but implementing education about how to apply and use chalk is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  chalk dust  customer experience  operations  OSHA  risk management 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Focus on Workplace Safety – Eye Protection for Workers in Climbing Facilities

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Eye Protection

Despite how the muscles in your forearms might feel while climbing, the muscles that control our eyes are the most active in the human body. Likewise, our eyes, part of our nervous system, are one of our most complex organs, second only to the brain. Even though only 1/6 of our eye is exposed to the outside, and our eyelids, brows, and lashes help to protect our eyes, they are still highly vulnerable to injury. Our eyes are susceptible to UV light, harmful substances, and trauma.

 

Workplace injuries are the leading cause of eye trauma, vision loss, disability, and blindness. In 2017 alone there were over 23,000 non-fatal workplace eye injuries in the US. Thankfully, 90% of eye injuries are preventable with the proper safety eyewear.

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in CFR 1910.133 requires that, “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

 

Of all the tasks in a climbing facility, routesetting is the most likely, but perhaps not the only, job where eye protection is needed. These days, most professional routesetters use impact drills, which increase the exposure to flying debris hazards.

 

Not all safety glasses are intended for the same purpose, so make sure to select equipment compatible with the work you are doing. OSHA requires that safety glasses be specially rated and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). All safety glasses and goggles should be rated ANSI Z87.1 for eye protection, with the Z87 mark on the frames or lenses. Using glasses that are not safety-rated may increase your exposure to a hazard because standard eyeglasses and sunglasses can shatter.

 

Cody Grodzki, Director of Routesetting for High Point Climbing and Fitness in Tennessee and Alabama, said they have recently employed the use of face shields, like the Petzl Vizen, during routesetting activities while on ropes and ladders. A face-shield provides wrap-around protection from flying debris and particles. The Vizen is compatible with the helmets they wear, provides full-face protection, and meets the ANSI Z87.1 standard.

 

Eye injuries can result in vision loss, so if an eye injury occurs it is important to recognize it and respond appropriately. First, do not attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself – seek medical attention. If a person has obvious pain, trouble seeing, a cut or torn eyelid, blood in the eye, or something that is not easily removed, it is important to seek medical attention. Attempting to remove something that is embedded in the eye can create more damage.

 

Some facilities may offer portable eyewash stations with rinse bottles. These can be helpful for minor first-aid response, but keep in mind the limitations of an eyewash bottle. Eyewash stations should be easily reachable with clear access. From a risk management program perspective, the rinse solution in eyewash bottles has an expiration date and needs to be inspected and maintained.

 

As with all work, remember to take the necessary precautions before beginning and make sure you understand the hazards in the tasks you are performing. If possible, try to eliminate the hazard first. Ensure that tool guards and other “engineering controls” are in place. Make sure your eyewear is comfortable and fits. Finally, don’t overlook eye protection – use it.

 

References

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Vision Council
National Eye Institute

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson works as an EOSH Professional and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing gym industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  job hazard analysis  operations  OSHA  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  standards 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

One Small Step (or how a close call changed my routesetting life)

Posted By Peter Zeidelhack, Sunday, March 24, 2019
Peter Zeidelhack Routesetting

When I started climbing about 28 years ago, there were no climbing gyms around, so our dad built us our own little steep woody where my love for routesetting and climbing holds was born. Today I’m a routesetting nerd, a gear freak, and a hold-aficionado. I’m passionate about every aspect of routesetting, except maybe cleaning holds… I love the workout and feeling exhausted after a day on the rope. I love watching the members enjoy the routes my team and I set and seeing their happy faces (or the challenged, angry ones). As long as our members are happy, we are happy.

 

I also like to teach routesetting, which I’ve been doing for almost 8 years now. As our industry is growing, this is becoming progressively more important. More gyms mean more routes and boulders have to be set more often, and people need to know the fundamentals on all aspects of routesetting in order to be able to create a great experience for the customers. We want them to come back, don’t we?

 

As for Germany, it’s only in the last 15 years that the growth in climbing gyms really started picking up pace, and through that growth routesetting has become more and more important. My first contact with routesetting was at the 1991 World Cup in Nürnberg where a certain Wolfgang Güllich was setting the routes together with Kurt Albert and others. When these guys were routesetting from ropes back then, what did it look like? Maybe a bit like this:

 

Vintage Routesetting Technique

 

Some of us might have used techniques similar to this at a certain stage or actually still do.

 

When I started routesetting, everyone was using standard sport climbing practices. We thought, “Yeah man, climbing gym, cool, all good! No sharp edges, no cutting tools! We climb all the time with one rope, why would we need more than one rope for routesetting? We’re comfortable with height as climbers, no problem!” We felt invincible. We were teaching routesetters this way, we were routesetting this way ourselves, and we probably would still be routesetting this way if not for the wake-up call we got one day. A rope almost ruptured on a coworker of mine due to a sharp edge on the wall and luckily, we didn’t have to learn the hard way:

 

 

“Once in a lifetime” you say? Nope, this was not a singular event when it comes to damaged ropes. My team started to notice this happening with some regularity, and we determined that the hazards of a cut rope weren’t preventable. So, what do we do? Similarly to the CWA’s Work-at-Height standard, we apply techniques that are already used in other fields. We switched to a redundant way of routesetting and began teaching it this way from then on. Not only in Germany but also in other European Countries like the UK, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, and France. The community is rethinking safety standards for the industry on a larger scale.

 

Routesetting has evolved along with the sport of climbing, the climbing community, as well as overall industry growth. You all know this! A climbing film winning an Academy Award, combined sport climbing being part of the Olympic family next year, and the level of awareness of climbing and the gym industry is growing faster than ever. We have to meet this awareness with a certain level of professionalism.

 

What does this mean for routesetting? We have to be aware of what we are doing and the bottom line for this is: we are not climbing when we are routesetting, we are working, and we have to act accordingly! I will not dig into the hazard analysis and the legalities – this has been done here before.

 

My point is the necessary shift in our mindset as routesetters – be it the Operations Manager, the Head Routesetter, or the routesetters on the team. It doesn’t take much to embrace this way of thinking and if you value your life, this is the best way. I am not only talking cut ropes but also human error, injuries, and medical issues. Do we really want to wait for an even bigger accident to finally see the obvious?*

 

I‘m on a mission. And my mission is to make the routesetting profession safer on a global scale. With the industry getting bigger, more gyms popping up everywhere, and more demand for awesome routes, new routesetters need to know what they are doing. We want to give them the tools to pursue a professional curriculum and keep customers from getting hurt.

 

In order for our industry to keep growing, we need to reduce risk in routesetting. What I personally want most is to have routesetting stay as much fun as it is right now, and that involves safety: not third, not second, FIRST! The foundation of routesetting is all about safety. Creating movement and climbing come after that.

 

*Editor’s note: As this post was being prepared, an accident occurred in Germany resulting in the death of a climbing wall worker named Gerhard Haug. Mr. Haug was conducting an inspection on the wall and fell from 16 meters (over 50 feet). It is not clear what kind of rope system was in use, but it was not redundant. There was apparently no rope attached to his harness. We will share further information if it becomes available.

 


From Climber to Worker: A Panel Discussion on Work-at-Height

Join Peter Zeidelhack and other routesetting leaders for a panel discussion of the Work-at-Height standard and the future of the routesetting profession during the 2019 CWA Summit conference. Register here.


 

Peter Zeidelhack Head ShotAbout the Author

Peter Zeidelhack has been a routesetter for 16 years, specializing in commercial routesetting and routesetting safety. He is Head of Routesetting Training for DAV (German Alpine Club), manager of two gyms, and responsible for routesetting in 4 gyms with a total climbing surface of 16.000 square meters.

 

Tags:  certifications  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

The Three Most Important Pieces of Personal Protective Equipment for Climbing Wall Workers

Posted By Aaron Gibson, MS, Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Personal Protective Equipment

Climbing wall workers are confronted with a number of potential hazards to be protected against. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the term given to wearable devices and clothing used in the workplace to protect workers from various hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that PPE “shall be provided, used, and maintained,” whenever necessary by risk of injury and hazard exposure to workers [1]. Each job task should be assessed for potential hazards (see my previous article about JHAs) but most climbing wall workplaces can benefit from three fundamental forms of PPE: eye protection, hearing protection, and hand protection.

 

Safety Glasses and Safety Goggles

Eye Protection

Eye protection is perhaps the most important protection device in your PPE toolbox because our eyes are delicate and vulnerable to a variety of hazards. OSHA requires that “the employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles…” [2]. Most notable in the climbing wall workplace are physical impacts such as projectile materials, particulate matter, and liquid chemicals. An approved pair of safety glasses with side shields can protect against metal shards, plastic particles from holds, and wood dust, such as when using an impact drill during routesetting. Safety goggles provide all-around protection and should be used for splash hazards often found during cleaning operations with liquid chemicals.

 

Earplugs and Earmuffs

Hearing Protection

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur as a result of both a one-time excessive noise level and from long-term exposures to excessive noise. While single intense “impulse” noises are possible in the climbing gym environment, more likely are chronic, long-term exposures to elevated noise levels (above 85 decibels) over time. The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. The use of disposable earplugs or earmuffs provides the necessary protection. Depending on the type of device used, these effectively reduce the noise levels by 15-35+ decibels, saving a worker’s hearing. Some workers may use music headphones or ear-buds in lieu of earplugs (or earmuffs) and while these may provide some noise reduction they are typically not designed to protect in the same manner as hearing protection. In fact, in some cases, listening to loud music while also performing work in a noisy environment may even increase your risk of hearing loss, so be aware of what type of hearing protection you choose.

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Hand Protection

As climbing wall workers, protecting your hands is important to your ability to both work and climb. Gloves provide the necessary barrier between our hands and what we are handling. Select appropriate gloves for the task you are performing. There are different gloves for different types of tasks weather it is housekeeping chores, hold washing, routesetting, or other manual labor. Routesetters that go without work gloves while stripping a wall are susceptible to cuts and abrasions to their hands from bolts, spinning holds, and repeated contact of handling holds. Workers can benefit from preventing blisters and abrasions by wearing a thin-layer work glove when performing daily cleaning duties.

 

In summary, the use of PPE is an important means of reducing workplace injuries and incidents. While protecting workers’ eyes, ears, and hands is a good place to start, keep in mind that training is necessary for proper work practices. An emphasis on worker participation and the demonstration of a positive safety culture by management is paramount to effectiveness.

 

References and Resources

[1] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132 – Personal Protective Equipment
[2] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133 – Eye and Face Protection
[3] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 – Occupational Noise Exposure
[4] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - National Institutes of Health – Information on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
[5] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.138(a) – Hand Protection

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson works as an EOSH Professional and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing gym industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  management  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Beyond Fall Protection: Risk Management for Climbing Wall Workers in the Gym Environment

Posted By Aaron Gibson, MS, Monday, October 22, 2018
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2018
Worker Safety in Climbing Gyms

Safety in the workplace is important in all working environments, including climbing gyms. The General Duty Clause of the 1970 OSHA Act mandates that employers have a legal responsibility to present a safe working environment [1]. Climbing gyms often focus their risk management policies on fall protection, and rightly so, but are there weaknesses in other areas that present hazards to workers? This article will go beyond fall protection to help you consider other possible workplace hazards associated with a typical climbing gym, and introduce a technique for enhancing your workplace safety program as a whole.

 

The best time to address potential hazards is before they occur. A good starting point is the use of a Job Hazard Analysis or JHA [2]. A JHA is a technique that helps with the identification of hazards and examines the relationship between the worker, a particular task, and potential hazards. The JHA process is commonly applied in industrial work settings to address specific tasks that present hazardous conditions, but the same techniques can be effectively applied in a climbing gym setting.

 

The first step of a JHA is identification. First identify and prioritize tasks in the gym to be analyzed. This can be based on a preliminary review of accident/incident/near miss reports, feedback from staff, or experience with gym tasks. Some front-desk tasks may not be necessary to examine in depth. However, consider that infrequently performed jobs may be the ones that present the greatest hazard to workers. Things like changing air filters, removing a t-nut from behind a wall, accessing an electrical panel, power-washing handholds, even changing a high-bay light, have hazards associated with them.

 

Next, list the individual steps to accomplish the task. Think in terms of sequence of events. Make notes on what is done rather than how it is done. Start each entry with a verb, for example, “Turn on power washer.” This part of the process is often done through observation and documenting of the task while it is being performed.

 

As you progress, identify potential hazards. You are looking at possible areas of harm to the worker: risks to life, limb, eyesight, hearing, etc. Address questions like: What can go wrong? What are the consequences? How likely is it that the hazard will occur? What are other contributing factors?

 

List preventive measures and consider ways to eliminate or reduce the hazards. Is there a smarter way to do the job? Consider changes to equipment, changes in tools, changes to work processes, changes to access methods for work-at-height, or changes to the personnel doing the job. Often there will be a combination of controls used. If engineering controls and administrative controls are not enough to address the hazard, use personal protective equipment (PPE) (ex: hearing protection, eye protection, gloves, etc.).

 

The preventive step requires a trade-off of sorts, usually based on larger factors like time and money. While elimination of a hazard is the most effective solution, it can also be the most expensive, and often times impractical. Administrative controls and PPE tend to be more cost effective but require more management, training, and continuous monitoring. Maintaining accident, injury, illness and near-miss reports is an important part of continuous monitoring to ensure your program is effective.

 

The final steps include correcting hazardous conditions, communicating with staff about the findings, and re-training staff if necessary. A periodic review of your JHAs is necessary as tasks or equipment can change over time. Involve staff in making the gym a secure workplace – they are often in the best position to identify what the risks and hazards in the workplace are as they evolve over time.

 

Example Job Hazard Analysis

Removing a stuck t-nut (at ground level) behind a climbing wall.

 

Sample Job Hazard Analysis

Resources and References

  1. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/section5-duties
  2. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.pdf
  3. https://www.osha.gov/shpguidelines/getting-started.html

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson holds a Masters of Science Degree from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and has over fifteen years of work experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the indoor climbing industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  job hazard analysis  OSHA  risk management  standards 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal