Challenge courses: minimize risks at camp

Camps are once again in full swing with summer activities. For camp leaders, this means an increased level of risk involving campers, visitors and staff members. With proper risk management planning of various activities, particularly challenge course activities, you can significantly reduce loss exposures at your camp this year.

Each year accidental injuries and deaths occur at camps as a result of participants falling from high- and low-element challenge courses and zip-lines. Many of these claims are severe in nature and cause devastating impairment or affliction to campers and staff members. With proper maintenance, training, and thorough inspection of all challenge courses and equipment, you can help to keep your campers, visitors, and staff safe.

Identifying risk

Like anything, challenge course elements can deteriorate and become less safe over time. Camps and conference centers should do their due diligence to ensure courses are in good repair and safe for use.

Annual professional inspections of ropes or challenge courses (including other high-adventure elements such as zip-lines, rappelling towers and climbing walls) and course equipment should be conducted by qualified challenge course specialists who are experienced and familiar with associated standards and inspection procedures.

Daily inspections of ropes or challenge courses and course equipment should also be conducted and documented by trained staff.

Controlling risk

Following an inspection by a qualified challenge course personnel, implement appropriate changes to reduce and control all identified risk exposures. 

Analyze all current exposures, techniques and procedures (methods or steps being used) to achieve the desired outcome. Recommended challenge course policy/procedure topics include:

  • Establish detailed written procedures/rules for all challenge courses, course elements, climbing towers/walls, zip-lines and course equipment.

  • Establish and document an ongoing periodic review of safety procedures to ensure camp leaders and staff members are familiar with all procedures and that they are being followed.

  • Establish written procedures for regular maintenance and inspection of all course elements and equipment.

  • Establish training and experience requirements for program leaders and staff.

  • Establish a written procedure for an emergency rescue plan for each activity. Practice rescue procedures by conducting emergency drills.

  • Establish policies that include age limitations for specific challenge course features as well as use of your facilities and equipment by outside groups.

  • Establish policies that require all camp activities to be supervised by qualified individuals.

  • Check local weather reports when planning daily events for challenge course activities. Do not allow activities to occur during electrical storms or other adverse weather, such as high winds.

Your ropes courses, challenge courses, climbing walls, zip-lines, rappelling towers and all other high-adventure elements require proactive risk management measures that include inspections and periodic maintenance. Implementing a comprehensive risk management program will provide campers, visitors and staff members with a safe and accident-free environment.

We’re here to help! For additional questions, contact Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Control Central.

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