Ropes Course Inspections

Ropes courses, be they operating at height or at a low level, just above the ground have been developed by outdoor Centre’s and camps over many years. These were often constructed by well-meaning outdoor enthusiasts and instructors, but rarely constructed to a plan and without any real understanding of the forces that could be involved and the loads needing to borne. Thus they were either constructed to be almost immovable and indestructible or with equipment neither designed for the job or strong enough to with stand regular use. 

At Adventure Vertical, we’re pleased to be able to support centres in their inspection of their Ropes courses and development of Risk assessments and Operating Procedures. Further to this we can support the delivery and development of sessions around specific needs, abilities or learning. With a team bringing decades of experience, having worked on a wide range of ropes courses and bringing with them the technical know how in Periodical Inspections to support your Inaugural and Annual inspections provided by a Ropes Course Constructor company.

The legislative process.

There are many regulations governing the adventure industry, from the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) which affects all businesses to the more refined and specialised Work at Height Regulations (2005) and the Load Operating and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER 1998)

In 2007 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released an amendment to the 2005 Work at Height Regulations, this amendment was designed for the outdoor and adventure industry, specifically rock climbing and caving.

The HSE took into account the advice of the Adventure Activity Licencing Authority (AALA), in association with opinions of several key experts and decided that the good practices laid out by the National Governing Body Awards (NGB’s), were sufficient to incorporate into the regulations when instructing caving, climbing and similar sports activities such as high ropes courses, and that these standards are suitable to meet the aims of the Work at Height Regulations (2005). However, this amendment does not apply when an instructor or assessor accesses the course by a different method or route than that of the clients (for purposes such as maintenance, inspections or rescues, for example). Under the amendment, this falls under the Work at Height Regulations (2005) 

Although this does not necessarily mean that anyone performing these types of activities needs to be specifically trained under the Industrial Rope Trade Association scheme (IRATA), they should undergo appropriate training to ensure that correct procedures are followed.

LOLER (Load Operating and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998)

LOLER 1998 applies to all equipment involved in the lifting or supporting of a load such as a person. This covers anchors, ropes and support structures.

The regulations are very simple and with no amendments for the adventure industry.

All equipment involved in the lifting and supporting of a load must have regular recorded inspection by a competent autonomous person.

Recorded inspections should take place at a minimum of every 6 months in addition to the pre-use checks carried out on every occasion by the user (which do not need to be recorded).

These regulations are as much a legal requirement as the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and should be as standard as having a PAC test done upon electrical equipment.

PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998)

PUWER 1998 requires that equipment provided for use at work is:

  • suitable for the intended use
  • safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate 
  • used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training
  • accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls. These will normally include emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices 
  • used in accordance with specific requirements, for mobile work equipment and power presses 

Some work equipment is subject to other health and safety legislation in addition to PUWER. For example, lifting equipment must also meet the requirements of LOLER, personal protective equipment must meet the PPE regulations

Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002

When considering PPE One of the implications of this legislation is that employers should ensure that any personal protective equipment (PPE) provided should be in an ‘efficient state, efficient working order and in good repair and that organisations should have systems in place to examine, test, clean, repair and replace equipment, to train staff and to store equipment appropriately.  PPE inspections are a legal requirement under LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) and PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) which states that all equipment used as PPE, or for maintaining a load or lifting, should have regular inspections. It also states that all equipment, both PPE and load bearing, should have a written inspection record by a competent, independent person every six months

The EN 15567 (the European Ropes Course Standard)

This sets out the minimum requirements to be met for the installation of new ropes courses, and the operation of both new and existing ropes courses. First published in 2007, the standard has evolved over time with the last update being published in 2014. This should be used in conjunction with The UK Ropes Course Guide Edition 4.2 July 2015 produced by ERCA and AAIAC

It is important to note that European Standards do not apply retrospectively so existing courses built prior to 2007 need not conform to EN 15567. They must however be safe and in the event of an accident the onus will be on the operator to demonstrate that it was safe and any external body examining an incident would use EN 15567 as a base line standard for good practice.

The updated European Ropes Course Standard includes a number of changes which will impact adventure park operators, constructors and safety equipment manufacturers across Europe.

Complying with EN standards is not compulsory. It is up to individual ropes course owners whether or not they want to comply. It’s definitely worth stating however that EN standards are accepted as normal working practice in any given industry and in the case of an incident, any investigating body will refer to European Standards when conducting their enquiries.

Operation and Inspection of Ropes Courses

The standard includes a number of changes to the categorisation of safety equipment used to connect participants with ropes course safety systems (including carabiners, inter-locking devices and trolleys), as well as a newly defined set of supervision levels. When looking at Low ropes specifically important changes in the new standard will include updated requirements for the inspection, testing and identification of specific equipment used, including:

  • Wire ropes
  • Ferrule Secured Terminations
  • Plastic covered wire ropes

The new standard also includes a requirement that all safety equipment is inspected by a competent and qualified PPE instructor at least once a year. As you would expect, ropes course owners will need to be able to evidence that inspections have been carried out and keep accurate records and operational inspections of ropes courses need to comply with EN15567:2015 part 2—Operational Requirements.

Which would recommend that operational inspections must be carried out by a competent person at least every three months, or as indicated by the manufacturer’s instructions and are intended to be more thorough than a routine (visual) inspection. They are primarily intended to identify structural deterioration that might be missed on a day-to-day basis.