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Projecting Anti-Racism: Asking for Free Labor

Posted By Anaheed Saatchi, Thursday, July 16, 2020
Asking for Free Labor

Developing anti-racist businesses, organizations, philanthropic ventures and so on, requires considerable long-term investments in labor and education. The nature of working towards a future without racism is complex, nuanced, place-specific, and emergent (ever-evolving). Companies that have recently decided to pursue “becoming anti-racist” have much work to do.

 

The trending phenomena of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) being solicited for free labor has spiked since the uprisings around the United States in defense of Black lives. Industry professionals in all sectors have been put on the defensive: where they do not know how to--or do not want to-- pursue an internal review of their operations and so they post a black square, virtue signaling solidarity without real change. They might also contribute to the flooded inboxes of BIPOC and JEDI experts without offering to hire them.

 

In the act of asking for “advice”, the result is often harmful. It is extractive and perpetuates the narrative that anti-racist work can be an afterthought and not the driving force behind our socioeconomic pursuits.

 

You are not the only gym, brand, publication, club, team or, well, anyone in any industry, really, to decide now is a good time to make some changes. You are not the only one to track down that person who seems to be doing this kind of work, either professionally or because they have invested in their community. In fact, you are one of countless others who email them, or worse, direct message them on Instagram, with a paragraph explaining who you are and how dedicated you are to making changes before asking them to chat. No mention of compensation, no acknowledgment of their work as work.

 

This looks like something a lot of BIPOC have seen before - the image of a white person or institution extracting information without really doing any labor or investing anything themselves. This becomes devastating. The practice of understanding these racial optics is an anti-racist practice. Are you perpetuating a pattern of harm? Can you learn to see the bigger picture?

 

These solicitations lead to burnout for BIPOC and while you may be thinking, “it’s just a conversation,” or, “well, the person I messaged seemed happy to help,” you need to consider your own impact.

 

It is essential to understand that these are not casual conversations for non-white people. There is an extreme lack of perspective from the industry when it comes to the harm that befalls BIPOC put in these positions of having “friendly conversations” with industry members in the early stages of unlearning their own racism. Know what you’re asking: this is trauma.

 

You wouldn’t expect an engineer to build you a bridge for free, so it is not appropriate to ask a BIPOC person for their guidance without compensation. And no, a punch pass to your gym doesn’t count as currency. If you don’t have the budget to pay someone, then tap into the deep pool of online resources to educate yourself further. What you’ll invest, instead, is your time until you’ve restructured in such a way that you are able to afford hiring a consultant for your business.

 

Read/Follow/Learn:

Books

Resource Guide

Resources for Climbers of Color: For Allies

 

Instagram Accounts

 

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It is great that so many brands, organizations, and individuals are committing to social justice work - provided they follow through. But as you do, remember that no one owes you emotional labor. No one owes it to you to educate you. This includes people who do advocacy work. • Asking people to give you the emotional labor of explaining their lives is not the same thing as "lifting up our voices." Asking people to share their trauma and provide solutions so that people don't harm them again is not giving someone a platform. . There is one phrase I find particularly demeaning: "I want to pick your brain". My brain is not here for you to pick apart and use whenever and however you want. My knowledge and experience is not a resource to be extracted - my body is not a resource to be extracted. • Here are some tips when asking for free labor (i.e., information), even from advocacy groups: 1) Google is your friend. Most organizations have a website where your questions have been answered. I promise lots has been written online. Have a general understanding before you ask for more info. 2) Introduce yourself. It sounds basic but you'd be surprised how infrequently it happens. Say hello. Introduce your name and a bit about who you are and why you have questions. It shows respect and that you aren't taking the time for granted. 3) Be specific. Asking general questions takes more time to sort out exactly what you're asking. Also see 1# 4) Its ok that you don't know. You don't have to apologize. Please stop apologizing. 5) Offer something back. Give a sincere thank you. Share their work, and credit them when you use the info they gave you. Best of all, pay them for their time and expertise, whatever you can afford. • What do you wish people would do when asking for emotional labor? • [ID: an image of mountains in a purple hue, text overlaid in all caps reads "Asking for emotional labor is not giving someone a platform"]

A post shared by Disabled Hikers (@disabledhikers) on

 

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I've been trying to think through the next step for this account and where I've landed is to post activities/reflections/guided lessons for practicing different conflict skills, as well as ideas for how to start small in engaging in healthy growth-based conflict routinely. If that interests you - stay tuned! Image text: We cannot be both anti-racist and fully conflict avoidant. Our learned behaviors are often in tension with anti-racist values, which is why our best intentions are often at odds with what we actually say and do in the moment. If my homegrown conflict strategy is to avoid or walk away from conflict, how can I challenge the most insidious forms of white supremacy—those that live within myself and people close to me? Once I identify that I have learned to avoid conflict at the expense of practicing anti-racist values, I become responsible for learning new skills and strategies. Confronting racism is necessary; therefore our anti-racism depends on the practice of conflict skills and the healing of traumas and insecurities that stand in the way of action. Conflict Skills: sitting with discomfort, directness, confidence, curiosity, listening, honesty, patience, speaking toward growth rather than shame, openness rather than defensiveness, self-reflection, etc.)

A post shared by Amber 🌿(she/they)💚 (@conflicttransformation) on

 

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And this is why I wasn't down with hwhite and non-Black folks posting their black squares on social media when: 1) you weren't vocal to begin with and now you want to participate in a national blackout where you get a free pass to continue saying/doing nothing? 2) radio silence and crickets from you all since the black Square. This is performative. 3) I see many of you going right back to "normal" by rock climbing outdoors, centering yourselves in this movement, and asking for free labor from Black and Indigenous people (like we all aren't being inundated right now with requests for advice and action from brands, companies and individuals. Do you think you're truly the only one?) 4) you all are already tired and taking breaks from activism after approximately 2 minutes, citing your mental health, while Black and Indigenous people who have been keeping this tempo for years continue to disproportionately do this work. Do you think our mental health isn't suffering? Do you think we haven't known loss, grief, trauma, racism, and on top of that we still do this work daily AND know how to not act a fool and go outside without masks and climb and travel in the middle of a pandemic? What is wrong with you all! 5) Some of you didn't even post a Black square. You're still climbing away uninvolved and unbothered. If you think anyone is impressed by you using your white privilege and disposable income and generational wealth to focus on climbing rocks in the middle of a Civil Rights uprising and global pandemic then you are sorely out of touch with reality. I believe in my community to do better and this isn't it. Everyone who posted a Black square but isn't following up with action AND SELF EDUCATION, this is your call in. I am not sugarcoating how I feel for your comfort. I know you all can do better and I hold you to higher standards. We need everyone on board doing this work, not just a select few who are the most impacted by inequality & systemic racism. BOOKS BY BLACK WOMEN TO AT LEAST SELF EDUCATE: ⬇️⬇️⬇️ Me & White Supremacy (Layla Saad) So You Want to Talk about Race (Iljeoma Oluo) The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) Eloquent Rage (Brittney Cooper)

A post shared by Mélise Marie (@meliseymo) on

 

Prioritize this labor. Pay for this labor. Hire a facilitator, guide, or coach to help you along your journey. Just make sure you appreciate the skill and expertise involved in this work, as well as the toll it takes on the educators.

 

Anaheed Saatchi Head ShotAbout the Author

Anaheed Saatchi is a queer and non-binary writer and community organizer. They cover themes of social justice, diaspora, the outdoors industry and identity politics. In 2018, they co-founded the rock climbing initiative BelayALL, based on the unceded territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) nations. Examples of their work can be found in Alpinist Magazine and online at Melanin Base Camp.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  employee engagement  human resources  JEDI  leadership  staff training 

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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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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Avoid and De-Escalate Customer Conflicts

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part II of a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

In Part I, we discussed setting up positive, proactive communication. Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that you’ll have members and customers who are unhappy with the timing of your reopening and the policies you’ve laid out.

 

That’s understandable, say Jim Wetherbe and Ted Waldron, professors at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business. After all, this situation is unprecedented, and as restrictions start to loosen, it’s natural that folks will have conflicting viewpoints—and empathy goes a long way toward avoiding conflicts before they happen.

 

Of course, as former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey points out, conflicts aren’t always avoidable.

 

We sat down with each of these experts to bring you their tips for avoiding and de-escalating conflicts with members in your communications and, as you re-open, in person.

 

Create Member Buy-in

Building policies based on members’ own input is crucial, says Wetherbe. He suggests tapping your gym’s “opinion leaders” (the “stars” of the gym, those climbers who show up and seem to know everyone) to lead an informal focus group on protocols to keep members safe.

 

“If people complain, you can make it clear that you didn’t come to these decisions unilaterally,” Wetherbe says, adding that feeling as though one is in control is a basic human need. Knowing that their own peers are on board is likely to reduce those feelings of resentment.

 

Be Present

“If you’re anticipating conflict, you need to be there,” Wetherbe says simply. Massey also points out that there’s potential for misunderstanding when front desk staff is relatively new to the workforce and is attempting to enforce policies with older, more experienced customers.

 

In other words, no matter how well educated your staff is on the policies, and no matter how effectively you’ve frontloaded communication with members, it’s crucial that you’re physically there, role modeling protocols for staff and members. That way, if an unhappy member wants face time with the person in charge, they can hear it directly from you. Not only is the opportunity to have humanizing discussions helpful in de-escalating existing conflicts, but it also reminds other members that your goal is to keep them safe.

 

Watch Your Tone and Body Language

As Waldron points out, rephrasing a statement as a question (a technique Wetherbe suggests in our last post) is only as effective as the body language of the person doing it. That’s extra tough when your face is hidden behind a mask; we rely on facial expressions like smiling to get a point across in a non-combative way.

 

Still, there are ways to tailor your body language to de-escalate a situation. Wetherbe recommends nodding your head and lifting your eyebrows, as well as opening your arms and exposing your palms.

 

It’s also possible to de-escalate conflict when members can’t see you, says Massey (the vast majority of hostage negotiations take place over the phone). Even as the other person on the line starts to escalate, keep your tone even and avoid meeting that level of aggression with your own voice.

 

Empathy Is Key

“Never, ever tell another person how to feel,” says Massey. Instead, he suggests, “listen to what they’re trying to say. Connect that with empathy, and you can move mountains.”

 

One technique Massey recommends is “emotional labeling.” When you’re in the midst of a negative interaction with a customer, that might mean saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of frustrations today. I don’t want to be another source of frustration for you. How can I help?”

 

Even if you’re wrong in your labeling, he says—maybe a customer tells you they’re not frustrated, but nervous—it shows them that you’re paying attention, and that you care about them. That’s when folks start to decompress, Massey explains: “It gets them back to saying, ‘I’m a human, and another human is trying to interact with me.’”

 

Be Ready to Stick to Your Values

“The customer is not always right,” Wetherbe says. “Sure, most of them are. But you have to be willing to ‘fire’ a bad customer to keep good customers.” Waldron agrees, pointing out that this is especially true now, when your other members’ safety is on the line.

 

Empathy remains crucial here, says Massey; this might mean saying something like “I can understand why you don’t want to [wear a mask / make an appointment to climb / follow X policy]. But if we don’t enforce these policies to keep all our members safe, we may not be able to stay open.” If a member simply won’t cooperate with your policies after you’ve followed all the other steps above, Wetherbe and Waldron agree that it’s best to ask that they return when social distancing guidelines are no longer necessary—for the sake of all your customers’ health.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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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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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Communicate With Your Customers

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, May 22, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part I in a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

As the coronavirus outbreak took hold over the last few months, gym owners everywhere have been bombarded with big questions—from navigating payroll assistance and small business loans to keeping customers safe, it’s been a big challenge for our community. Now, as restrictions in North America start to loosen, gym owners are faced with another question: How do we communicate with our members about reopening?

 

It’s an important question. Crisis communication expert Adele Cehrs points out that we’re in the midst of a textbook business crisis: “A crisis is any moment where your business needs to clarify a misperception,” she explains. In this case, that could be “I’m worried the gym won’t be clean enough to keep me safe,” or it could be “I’m a member, so I can do whatever I want.” In crisis communication, Cehrs explains, you walk back on those misperceptions. Here’s how to get started.

 

Communicate Early and Often

According to Cehrs, the amount of communication you’ll need in order to reassure members that it’s safe to return is directly related to how frequently and effectively you’ve communicated over the last few months—if you’ve been posting regularly to your channels and reaching out to members, you’re in good shape. Keep your audience in the loop with an email blast or social post as you move towards reopening, whether you’re doing it in phases or are holding off altogether for a few weeks. Reaching out to members proactively has the added benefit of reminding your customers that they’re part of your community and are among the first to know about important decisions.

 

Set Clear Expectations

As with managing employees and interpersonal relationships, setting clear boundaries and expectations is one of the surest ways to avoid conflict. According to Ted Waldron, an associate professor of management at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business, “keeping patrons well informed of occupancy restrictions, advance registration requirements, facility use agreements, [and] protective measures/behavioral guidelines,” along with remedial actions (for example, one opportunity to comply with facility rules before being asked to leave), “would go a long way in stopping any conflicts before they start.”

 

Reassure Members—and Communicate Your Value

Getting members back to your gym requires trust, says Cehrs. “I have to trust that you can clean this gym better than you ever have before,” she says. “It’s a level of respect that needs to be elevated and communicated.” Her colleague, former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey, agrees. “Gyms will have to reacquire their customers,” he explains, pointing out that folks have been making do with their at-home setups for the last few months. In order to get them back in the door, you’ll need to communicate your gym’s value better than ever, whether that’s your cutting-edge routesetting, access to top-notch training classes, or warm community. This is a great time to step up your efforts to learn individual members' names and preferences, Massey adds.

 

Be as Transparent as Possible

Right now, it’s ok to tell your customers you don’t know the answer. Still, Cehrs strongly recommends having a “holding statement” about your reopening status. This can simply be a range of dates between which you anticipate opening. “That statement has to be genuine, authentic, and feel transparent,” Cehrs says, adding that it’s crucial that gym owners don’t make promises they can’t keep. It’s tempting to be vague or avoid communicating, she says, but that’s a mistake—it provides your members with no reassurance at all. Instead, keep it simple and direct: “We anticipate being able to open between X and Y. Lots of factors might affect the exact date we can open, but we’ll keep you updated as we know more!”

 

Show Customers Where You’re Coming From

This is closely related to transparency. Humanizing your business—an important step in the HEART framework, which Waldron and his co-author Jim Wetherbe outline in the Harvard Business Review—reminds your members that you, like they, are doing the best you can under difficult, unprecedented circumstances. “If people feel like they’re being bullied,” explains Wetherbe, the Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business, it’s harder to get buy-in. Instead, he suggests rephrasing statements as questions: “If you’re not wearing a mask, how is that fair to our other members?” Waldron adds it’s important to consider your body language here—more on that in Part II.

 

Anticipate Questions—and Come Prepared With Answers

Your members will likely have questions about everything from physical distancing to whether masks are really “required” to how long until you plan to be back to business as usual. It might help to come up with good answers to some of these common questions and share them among your staff. One question you’re almost guaranteed to get is about cleanliness, so a rundown of everything you’re doing to keep the facility clean, from the parking lot to the bathrooms to the equipment and flooring, is key. “You’ll have to hit on that hard, and do it right away,” says Cehrs, “[Members] are really trusting you, so they need you to reassure them that this is a place they can feel safe.”

 

Even if you’re doing everything right, it’s possible that conflicts with customers will still arise. We’ll cover that in Part II next week.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Follow up on remaining Hygiene Brainstorm questions

Posted By Garnet Moore, Monday, April 27, 2020
Lonely Climbing Wall

On April 21, the CWA held a Hygiene Brainstorm community call for members to share their questions, ideas, and concerns about all things hygiene related. This is one of the largest areas of concerns for gyms at the moment, and the CWA is working to provide solid guidance as we begin to look towards reopening.

 

As we conduct research and work with our partners, calls like this are a great way to hear your individual concerns and give you updates on what we know at this moment. If you are not already participating in our calls please register now to join us.

 

This was one of our most active calls and there were a number of questions that we didn’t get to cover live. Read on for answers to those questions and some great insights from some of the participants on this call.

 

1. Someone mentioned not filling water bottles at our facility. Why?

 

As with any high-traffic area like door knobs, computer keyboards, etc., drinking fountain actuators should be cleaned regularly. However, you should not be concerned about providing water in general. SARS-COV-2 has not been detected in drinking water at this time.

 

2. Wouldn't low route density force more hands/feet on the same holds? There's almost a case to be made for more routes to spread out contact...

 

Climber’s personal hygiene will be as important to your reopening strategy as your cleaning procedures. While there is no practical guaranteed way to sanitize holds in-between climbs or even overnight, the gathering of climbers in common spaces is something that can be limited. Reducing route density or access could help limit people’s natural inclinations to congregate in confined areas.

 

3. Are all gyms eliminating shared lead ropes? Seems like it will be impossible to keep them clean and members will have to bring their own rope.

 

As we all know there are a lot of risks in climbing, and in operating a climbing gym. Balancing which risk is greater than another is something that we constantly do. If you have chosen to provide lead ropes rather than let customers bring their own, make sure that any changes to this policy consider all areas of risk. You may even need to change your waiver, gym rules, or any published information to cover any potential liability.

 

It is not impossible to safely provide lead ropes to your customers, but it may not be something you wish to do. You can clean ropes with warm water and soap and then let them air dry – this is sufficient to sanitize them as long as your soaking or cleaning time follows the directions of your chosen cleaning product. You can add a policy requesting that climbers do not bite the rope to get more slack - in most gym settings, bolts are close enough that careful routesetting could eliminate the need for more than an arm length of slack. And, you can quarantine your ropes for a period of time prior to redistributing them to your customers. Seven to ten days should be sufficient, but the science is still in development for determining how long SARS-COV-2 can stay active on these types of materials.

 

4. For gyms with fixed GriGris on ropes as a high contact usage, what cleaners and protocols would work without compromising the rope integrity?

 

Check with the manufacturers of your ropes on chemical compatibility, but in general the safest cleaning method will be soap and warm water. In general bleach should not be used on nylon products and there is some evidence that alcohol will not significantly weaken some common rope materials. However, the frequency of cleaning has not been thoroughly tested and the safest cleaning method would be soap followed by rinsing with clean water.

 

5. Is there any kit to test if surfaces have COVID-19 presence (active/inactive) on them? If yes, we could run test on hold (starting holds) and see if the gym has been contaminated.

 

Currently there are no publicly available tests like this, and it is unlikely that there will be. The only method of testing for an active virus is to attempt to grow the virus in a cell-culture. This is a great time to highlight a comment made on the call that some studies and public news reports discuss the presence of viral RNA, which is not necessarily the same as an active virus. When digesting information about COVID-19 make sure that you understand the information being presented in full before making any policy or decisions.

 

6. Is anyone considering requiring temperature to be taken prior to entering the facility?

 

This is an interesting question that may be guided by local regulations more than individual gym choice. While some gyms may have to, or choose to, do this it is unknown at this time whether the possible asymptomatic spread could be stopped with this measure. Encouraging your customers to be courteous to others and stay home if they are sick may be an effective way to place this responsibility on them rather than your staff.

 

If you do need to take temperatures prior to entry make sure that you do so in a respectful and private manner and follow other basic health screening guidelines as well to protect your staff and your customers.

 

7. We are planning on spraying down our bouldering gym between sessions with a disinfectant. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Make sure that any chemicals used in a gym, especially in such a broad application, are compatible with all materials present. Find out what the active ingredients of your disinfectant are and analyze what sorts of safety equipment, paints, flooring, and other materials are present in your facility. Keep in mind that repeated exposure can have different effects than spot testing might reveal.

 

8. What about high pressure steam cleaning? does it disinfect? can we use it on ropes and harnesses?

 

There is not definitive evidence on SARS-COV-2 stability yet, but there is some evidence that higher temperatures will affect viability. However, steam cleaning is not a quick or inexpensive process and soap and warm water may be equally effective, faster, and cheaper. When it comes to ropes and harnesses there are temperature guidelines that you need to pay attention to, in general only warm water should be used on these materials – check with your gear manufacturer for specific temperature guidelines. Even common flooring materials can suffer from overly frequent steam cleaning.

 

9. Are gyms going to continue top rope testing / lead testing - what kind of staff to member contact will be stopped? Even some members still need to be tested.

 

Part of your facility’s hygiene will be the ways in which you protect your staff. You may decide to, or be required to, put up acrylic shields at your front desk, provide PPE to your staff, and to evaluate your staff's duties and create additional protocols based on their exact tasks. When it comes to the proximity required during belay tests you could require additional levels of PPE for your staff and customers. You could also create designated areas with preset testing rigs that allow for additional distance between employees and staff.

 

10. Is the CWA going to make cool posters for any of these topics?

 

Yes! We will be rolling out posters aimed at your customers and your staff. We want to help you communicate the extra measures you are taking to keep your facility as low risk as possible and we want to remind everyone in your gym about their personal responsibility in keeping themselves and others from getting sick.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  human resources  hygiene  operations  risk management  sanitization  staff training 

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Long Term Athlete Development: From Good to Great in Climbing

Posted By Heather Reynolds, Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Long Term Athlete Development Climbing Escalade Canada

With the Olympics now entertaining climbing as a competitive sport worthy of being an ongoing part of the games, many young climbers have far greater dreams than those who came before them. Now youth can dream of podiums, medals, and national flags. Social media is bringing the best of the best front and center on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, influencing an entire generation of young climbers to dream of competing among the elite.

 

Growth in participation, as well as the elevated aspirations of our young athletes, is an exciting opportunity for the sport of climbing. However, it is important to think long-term when creating training plans and programming for young athletes; that’s where Long Term Athlete Development comes in.

 

THE HISTORY OF LONG TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT

To understand where the LTAD program came from, you have to go back to the 1952-1988 era of Russian dominance at the Olympics. The repeated defeats on the international stage forced countries like Canada, Britain, and the US to look at what Russia was doing to develop their winners.

 

What they discovered was that Russia had created academic schools which also focused on developing athletes. Russia was simply using a concentrated method of developing the skills, strength, and agility of athletes from a young age.

 

In 1995, Istvan Balyi, a sport scientist working with the National Coaching Institute in British Columbia, Canada, packaged the Long Term Athlete Development program to provide a framework for improving sport systems in Canada.

 

The initial LTAD program described four stages of development, however with more research and review, and the development in understanding athletes, the model now describes eight stages of developing athletes.

 

Each stage is geared toward development physically, mentally, and in skill.

  1. Active Start: Birth to age 6
  2. FUNdamentals: Age 6 to 8 (F) or 9 (M)
  3. Learn to Train: Age 9 to 11 (F) or 12 (M)
  4. Train to Train: Age 11-15 (F) or 12-16 (M)
  5. Learn to Compete: Age 15-17 (F) or 16-18 (M)
  6. Train to Compete (Sport Climbing: Learn to Win): Age 16 and older
  7. Train to Win (Sport Climbing: Winning for a Living): Age 18 and older
  8. Active for Life: Any age after the growth spurt.

Like most sport organizations who now recognize this LTAD model as a foundation for athlete development, Climbing Escalade Canada has rewritten the LTAD for Sport Climbing.

 

This comprehensive document provides athletes, parents, coaches, and climbing organizations a great opportunity to identify the stage of an athlete’s development, to structure and focus training development, and to bring a higher level of safety and professionalism to our sport.

 

It is important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all model. Take Stage 3 as an example (the full chart is on page 13 of the CEC’s LTAD document):

 

Long Term Athlete Development Matrix Example

 

You’ll notice that not all 10 year olds will naturally have the FUNdamentals, or a solid foundation of movement skills, and those athletes may need additional support to catch them up in those areas. On the other hand, some 10 year olds may actually already be exceeding the Learn to Train level in strength and agility.

 

The CEC’s LTAD document breaks down each stage in full detail, which provides a guide to the appropriate strength and agility training, technical training, and mental and emotional development of the athlete. Use this guide to help you understand how to support your athletes at their various stages of development.

 

As our sport continues to grow and develop it will become more and more essential that coaches working with prospective competitors are able to provide a sustainable and healthy approach to athlete development. Stay tuned for my next post, where we will take a deeper look at the goal of the Long Term Athlete Development model.

 

References:

 

Heather Reynolds Head ShotAbout the Author

Heather is a licensed kinesiologist, High Five Trainer (Sport, PCHD), CEC Climbing Coach, and CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Certification Provider Trainer. She blends her knowledge of movement, physiology, and education to develop a multitude of successful climbing programs designed to support and engage youth. Having worked with youth for over 30 years as a recreation instructor, leader and educator, Heather supports the values and expertise available in the High Five Program, bringing quality assurance to youth-based sport and recreation programming.

 

Tags:  coaching  LTAD  programming  risk management  staff training  youth team  youth training 

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Nurturing Connections: A Gym Owner’s Experience at CWA Meetings San Francisco

Posted By Alex Chuong, Wednesday, January 8, 2020
CWA Meetings San Francisco Management Track

A few months ago, the CWA held a professional development event at the Planet Granite in San Francisco – part of the CWA Meetings regional events program. As the owner of a brand-new gym trying to figure out how to be a gym owner, routesetter, and instructor all at the same time, I was excited for the opportunity to connect with and learn from other professionals in the industry.

 

There were so many things that I took away from the experience, but one of my favorite parts was just being in a room full of other people who are just as passionate as I am about the indoor climbing experience. It was nice meeting, learning from, and connecting with industry professionals representing every gym in the Bay Area and even as far as Tahoe. There was even one person who came from overseas to attend this event.

 

There were three different content tracks that we could choose to attend during the event. They were the management/operations staff track, the routesetters track, and the adult/youth instructors track.

 

As someone who is involved in all those aspects at Oaktown Boulders, I wanted to attend all of them! But I ended up choosing the management track. Oaktown Boulders is a very young company, so as we continue to grow and the industry continues to evolve, I wanted to learn how to build a strong foundation in the business operations side.

 

On day one of the event, the business operations workshop was led by Chris Stevenson, former Red Ranger of the Power Rangers. Now, he owns and operates Stevenson Fitness, which consistently rates very high in customer reviews in the world of fitness clubs. In these sessions, we not only learned about his journey of starting the business, but also all the important lessons he learned along the way before becoming so successful.

 

Chris really emphasized that the reason his club is so successful is because of how they treat their customers and clients. Their number one priority is to provide a good experience for their members. Chris gave us great methods to not only measure member experience, but also how to enhance the member experience at our own gyms. This was especially pertinent to me — Oaktown Boulders is very young, and it made me realize how important it is to make the member experience core to our gym from the very beginning.

 

On the second day of the event, I hopped tracks and attended the breakout session for coaches and instructors led by Patrick Brehm of the Headwall Group. In this session, Patrick led us through how to have effective program planning at our gym. He shared creative games and exercises that he has used with kids before and we talked about how we can implement these in our programs. We then put the lesson into action and created plans for our own programs.

 

It was so much fun being a part of this session because everyone was so passionate about their own kids and youth programs. Collaborating and sharing fun games that we’ve done with the kids to keep them engaged and learning was my favorite part. I’ve already been able to try out a few of these games with our youth team at Oaktown Boulders and it’s been a huge success.

 

Overall, the CWA Meeting in San Francisco was an amazing opportunity to meet others in the industry and be re-inspired by everyone there who shares the same mission—to improve the experience of the members at their gym. Leaving the event, I had a renewed sense of hope for the future of the sport because there are such caring and amazing people behind the scenes trying to make it better.

 

Going back to work, I feel equipped and excited to start implementing all the things I learned to grow Oaktown Boulders and make it a truly wonderful and unique community.

 

Alex Chuong Head ShotAbout the Author

Alex was born and raised in Oakland, CA. After going away for college at UC Davis, he came back to Oakland and got into rock climbing, which has been a huge part of his life ever since. When the opportunity to start routesetting and coaching at the climbing gym that he frequented opened up, he jumped at the chance to give back to the community that had given him so much over the years. As he worked at the gym and watched this sport change people's lives, he realized that there was a huge need for something like this in his neighborhood back in Oakland, which is why he opened Oaktown Boulders.

 

Tags:  business development  customer experience  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  staff training 

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Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Burnout Culture in Climbing Gyms

Burnout as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) is a syndrome that occurs as the result of chronic workplace stress. Burnout isn’t a temporary experience – in fact, it has become a societal epidemic that can have negative impacts on your business.

 

With 1 in 5 employees reporting they experience burnout, your gym might already be experiencing the effects of burnout. We’re going to look at what burnout is and what you can do if your staff experiences it.

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

When you’re concerned your staff is underperforming and lacks motivation, it’s important to determine their stage of burnout in order to implement a strategy to reduce the negative impact on your business.

 

Burnout has been added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and has three characteristics, as defined by the WHO:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  3. and reduced professional efficacy.

While staff can experience different symptoms, there are five common stages of burnout:

  1. Honeymoon: The experience of commitment, energy, and creativity.
  2. Onset of Stress: The occasional experience of tough and challenging days here and there.
  3. Chronic Stress: The consistent experience of every day being tough and challenging, depleted energy, anxiety, and lack of focus.
  4. Burnout: The occasional experience of lack of motivation & creativity, low energy, pessimistic outlook, irritability, self-doubt, and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: Consistent and chronic mental and physical fatigue, depression, neglect of personal needs, and loss of motivation and creativity.

The Causes of Burnout Culture

According to Harvard Business Review, a workplace that doesn’t promote a healthy work/life balance is at the highest risk of experiencing burnout culture. While individuals experience the consequences of burnout, the underlying cause of burnout is due to the organization’s overall workplace culture and being trapped in the busyness paradox.

 

The busyness paradox conflates the state of being busy (for example, getting sidetracked with low value tasks or running around putting out fires all day) with producing high quality work based on intentional strategic purpose.

 

Given that busyness is often looked at as a badge of honor, what steps can you take to shift how your organization approaches productivity and ultimately improve your workplace culture?

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

Research shows that known costs of turnover can be as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, in addition to hidden costs such as reduced productivity, dissatisfied gym members, lowered staff morale, and compromised workplace safety. Managing staff burnout not only reduces negative impacts on the bottom line, but also supports a dynamic and positive gym culture.

 

The good news is that burnout is preventable when you focus on the key elements that you can control in your gym:

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

Labor, performance, and morale are measurable metrics that need to be tracked from an employee’s start date and throughout their employment. Effective and consistent HR management can reduce and eliminate burnout. It is not enough to guess if your staff is struggling, you need data that includes:

  1. How many hours they are working: Easily tracked through payroll and corrected through effective scheduling.
  2. What their performance is: Determined through reviews and underperforming staff can improve through training and mentoring.
  3. The state of their morale: Established through an employee survey that addresses how the staff feels about working, the working conditions at your gym, and what the staff wants to see improved.

It is important to know which factor(s) are contributing to burnout. For instance, a staff member not working excessive hours with good morale and low performance may need additional training or mentoring. Likewise, a staff member with great performance and low morale may be working too much.

 

Once you determine how much each potential factor is contributing to burnout, work with your staff to implement a remedy. Most likely, each factor will have some play in burnout and working to remedy even one factor can help lessen the overall impact of burnout.

 

While you can use metrics to gauge what needs improvement, do not forget basics like communication and interacting with staff, especially when you host comps or events in your gym.

 

Planning is crucial to getting back to the day-to-day after a special event. “Having a plan to make the workload manageable before, during, and after an event is mandatory if you want to ensure that events have minimal impact on a commercial facility and its routesetters,“ says Brad Weaver from Thread Climbing. “Having a plan in place and communicating that plan to the setting team and the gym staff helps set everyone’s expectations and helps reduce the stress on everyone involved.”

 

The bottom line is that though burnout is an individual experience, it’s generally a problem with the company, not the person. Depending on the size of your gym and how widespread your burnout problem is, it may be necessary to implement proactive cultural changes to how your business operates so that you are not constantly reacting to chronic cases of burnout in your staff.

 

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:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  operations  staff retention  staff training 

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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 

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