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A Review of Climbing Gym Reopening Policies – May 2020

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, June 26, 2020
May Reopening Survey Results

While shaping the CWA's Roadmap to Reopening, we’ve been monitoring the various guidance that has come from many states, counties, provinces, and countries in response to COVID-19. We’ve also been speaking to a lot of gym owners and operators and surveying the industry to gain insight into trends and individual choices. This article will cover some of the hot areas of discussion and some surprising results from our research.

 

The full results of this survey can be viewed on the May 2020 Reopening Survey Dashboard

 

Opening Dates

In our first round of official surveying at the end of May, 25% of respondents had already opened their gyms or climbing walls. The remainder of facilities were expecting to open by the end of July with a few outliers looking at September and November openings. Currently, it looks like a little over half of the gyms in North America are open, but our next round of surveying in late June should give us a more solid picture – keep an eye out for the survey invitation next week!

 

Reopening Guidance

As gyms created their individual reopening plans, they relied on a number of different resources. The hyper-local nature of laws and regulations are reflected by the fact that more than three quarters of gyms were guided by local county, state, and provincial authorities.

 

Sources of Reopening Guidance

 

Visitor Agreements

By the end of May many gyms had not added COVID-19 specific language to their visitor agreements and had not sought any legal advice as to whether or not they should. About 25% of gyms had added specific clauses to their agreements with only 15% of total respondents consulting a lawyer. It is the CWA’s advice to consult a local attorney to help answer the question of whether or not you should add any specific COVID-19 related clauses. There are a number of states where this may not be an appropriate addition.

 

Occupancy Limits and Controls

On average, gyms are setting an occupancy cap at 35% of their normal occupancy limits. The maximum occupancy reported was 50% and the minimum 10%. As expected, a plurality of gyms are self-limiting to a more conservative number for their initial reopening capacities.

 

Occupancy Limit

 

The majority of respondents are using reservation systems and time blocks to manage occupancy. For the most part these time blocks are 2 hours long and most often only available to members and punch pass holders. Only 30% of gyms are allowing day pass sales during their initial reopening phase.

 

Our current feedback on these policies is that customers are enjoying reservation systems, but that most gyms are not reaching capacity during most time blocks. We are seeing some gyms shift away from this extra service. We will continue to survey and monitor these policies.

 

Occupancy

 

Rental Gear Policies

About 25% of gyms have chosen not to offer rental gear as they reopen, but most gyms have chosen to continue offering a large assortment of rentals. The notable exception is the small number of gyms renting chalk bags and a presumable increase in gyms offering liquid chalk as a rental.

 

Rental Gear

 

Chalk Policies

About 20% of gyms have made no change in their chalk policies and 20% have taken the stronger measure of only allowing liquid chalk. More than a third of gyms are recommending liquid chalk over regular chalk but not making any stronger requirements.

 

Chalk Policy

 

Mask Policies

Surprisingly, not every gym is requiring staff to wear masks. Only 85% of gyms make this a requirement. Of those that don’t require employees to wear masks, half do encourage this extra measure of PPE.

 

Staff Masks

 

It is slightly less common for gyms to require customers to wear masks with over 60% of gyms requiring some form of mask wearing, 85% requiring or recommending masks, and only 14% not requiring or recommending masks. Many of these mask policies are self-imposed with only 20% of respondents reporting that they are mandated by local authorities to require masks.

 

Customer Masks

 

Physical Distancing Policies

When it comes to encouraging physical distancing, gyms have employed a variety of different strategies. The most common tactics involved signage, floor markings, and traffic control. Additionally, many gyms have closed or limited access to locker rooms and showers. Very few gyms have made no changes at all. Only 20% of gyms have limited the number of belay tests and new climber orientations. This is inline with the fact that the majority of gyms are accepting new memberships and attempting to move towards restarting adult and youth programs.

 

Physical Distancing

 

Ongoing Development of Reopening Policies and Best Practices

We will continue to monitor and report gym and climbing wall policies as more and more facilities reopen. To help us gather industry-wide information, please continue to participate in our monthly reopening surveys.

 

Take the June survey now!

 

When it comes to deciding on the individual protocols for your own facility, use all available resources, survey your members, and monitor all rules and guidance, as many localities are evolving rapidly. You will need to remain flexible as new attitudes and mandates emerge.

 

To end on a bright note, the overall economic impact to our industry is severe, but the majority of organizations reported that they would be able to weather closures as long as 6 months to 1 year or more. As we begin to reopen, the outlook will hopefully be brighter as we learn to operate under new assumptions and rules.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Interim Executive Director at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, serving gyms, manufacturers, and many climbing friends and partners.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer service  hygiene  management  operations  PPE  risk management  staff training  workplace safety 

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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 

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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 

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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 

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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 

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