Guidance for Rock Climbing Leaders

The guidance that follows focuses on single pitch climbing, and is written primarily for SPA holders. MIA and MIC holders operating in other situations will be additionally informed by their respective training.

  • Planning
  • Equipment
  • Clothing
  • Group Activity, Security and General Safe Practice
  • Ratios (Qualified Staff to Students)
  • Preparation of Participants
  • Water Hazards
  • Multi-Pitch Climbing

Careful planning and preparation contribute greatly to the safe and enjoyable outcome of any activity. The council's generic risk assessment for your chosen activity is designed to help you plan that activity safely, and must be referred to in the early planning stages. If the site or nature of the planned activity poses additional risks which are not covered by the generic risk assessment then these must be considered in an additional site specific risk assessment:

  1. Steepness at top and bottom of cliff.
  2. Height of the crag
  3. Approach and descent
  4. Ease of management of a group in that location
  5. Suitability of climbs/grades for the needs of the group.
  6. Tides
  7. Slippery rocks.
  8. Predicted weather conditions.
  9. Content of group briefing.
  10. Bird (nesting) restrictions, general conservation guidelines for the area.
  11. Poor weather alternatives, including cancellation or postponement if conditions are not suitable.

Safety is primarily a function of thought and attitude but careful selection and use of equipment will make a considerable contribution to safe practice.

All group equipment must be subject to regular inspection by the Adventure Activities Consultant and stored in accordance with manufacturers recommendations.
 
It is the instructor’s responsibility to ensure that all technical equipment (including ropes) is in good condition and appropriate for the planned session prior to use. If there is any doubt about the condition of an item of equipment it should be removed from use.

Instructors should note the following:
 

  • Properly sized equipment must be provided for all members of the group
  • Swapping or sharing of items of personal equipment should be avoided.
  • When working with very small, large or disabled persons, full body harnesses should be used. Knots in belts, excessively large leg loops and over adjusted helmets are not acceptable.
  • Equipment must be correctly adjusted and fitted to each participant.
  • If for any reason clothes are removed, put on or adjusted after the original fitting, belts, harnesses and helmets must be re-checked.
  • Helmets must be worn when participating in the activity or when in close proximity to the crag.
  • Locking karabiners must be used for all body attachments and main belay points.

Non-technical Equipment

A first aid kit, survival bag and group shelter should be at the site of the activity. Where possible, a mobile phone is a worthwhile addition to this list.

It is the responsibility of the instructor to ensure that their group is appropriately clothed for the prevailing conditions. In wet and windy conditions waterproofs and warm clothing are essential.
Consideration should also be given to the time of year and weather forecast

General guidelines:

  • Clothes should be suitably warm and non restrictive.
  • Individuals should have spare clothes for additional wear or to change into if necessary.
  • All individuals should have protective wind and waterproof clothing, hat and gloves and thin hat.
  • Full body cover is necessary in strong sunlight.
  • Long hair should be tied back.
  • Jewellery should be removed.

The overall safety of a climbing session is dependent on good instruction and safe practice.
The nature of the environment will demand that close supervision is exercised at all times.

General Guidelines for a safe and rewarding session

  • Knowledge of the group is important, especially in terms of behavioural, medical or physical problems and any previous experience of the activity.
  • Briefings should be comprehensive, ensuring the group are aware of who they are taking instructions from and of any potential hazards such as those arising from loose or slippery rock.
  • Personal equipment: Whilst the instructor has the overall responsibility for individual safety equipment, all users should be familiar with these items and have an awareness of how to use or wear them.
  • Fastening to rope: When climbing, participants should be tied in to ropes using appropriate knots. Clipping on to a bight of rope using a locking karabiner is only acceptable in an abseiling context when attaching a participant to a safety line.
  • Bouldering must only take place when clear guidelines are given and control measures put in place to avoid participants climbing too high and when there is no danger of anyone becoming injured if they slip or fall off. The height at which participants can be allowed to boulder at will be informed by the risk assessments made about the venue but should generally not exceed more than 1 metre in height. Avoid bouldering above an uneven surface.
  • Good communication is essential and basic instruction in climbing calls should be given so that everybody knows what is happening.
  • General security: group members waiting on ledges or near edges should be clipped to security lines. Traverse lines should be used whenever appropriate.
  • Flexibility: Instructors need to remain responsive to a dynamic environment.
  • Rescue techniques: the instructor should endeavour to prevent problems before they arise or resolve them using the simplest means possible.

 

When teaching basic belay techniques to group members instructors should ensure the following:

  • Appropriate measures are put in place to deal with differences in weight between climbers
  • There is no slack rope in the system.
  • The belayer is no more than two metres from the wall.
  • Unless rope is being taken in, the belay plate is in a locked position (a back-up person can help overall security).
  • Lowers are slow and controlled.
  • Instructors should ensure that ropes are ‘tailed’ by a second person behind the novice belayer until such time as the instructor is assured of the belayers competence

N.B Tyrolean traverses or zip lines are outwith the scope of the SPA and should only be managed by someone with appropriate training, such as a Mountain Instructor

The following ratios are a maximum and should not be exceeded. In some instances it may be necessary to reduce this ratio further.

1 Instructor: max 6 participants

Actual supervision ratios will be informed by the site specific risk assessment and consideration must be given to the nature of the group, terrain, conditions and experience of the supervising staff, and also to the potential impact on the environment and other users of the area.

The size of any group and the strategies used must always allow the leader to remain in control and in effective contact with all members of the group.

Basic prior instruction/training in the use and care of personal and key items of equipment is important. It should never be assumed that understanding has taken place until it has been tested in a supervised situation.

For physical and psychological reasons it is recommended that introductory grades should be well within their ability. Challenge should be introduced progressively to match growing confidence.
 
Any training involving holding the weight of a student on a rope must be tested and practised in a controlled situation.

Any crossing which requires more than a simple step across a small stream should not be underestimated and should only be contemplated when no significant risks are posed by doing so. When managing risks associated with water hazards, leaders must operate within the scope of their training and experience.
The council´s in house Lowhills Award does not provide formal training in dealing with water hazards, and leaders who are qualified in this capacity are required to ensure that any water crossings carried out under their supervision are of no more than ankle depth, able to be carried out easily and are inconsequential in the event of a slip.
Leaders who have undertaken national awards such as the Summer Mountain Leader Award will be more able to apply a reliable risk benefit analysis when faced with these hazards; however the overriding consideration should be avoidance of such hazards wherever possible.
The key to a successful outcome lies in the planning and risk assessment stages. Contingency plans should be drawn up for those situations where water is above ankle level or where the outcome of a crossing is uncertain. These should include alternative routes or waiting until water levels recede.

N.B Leaders who have undertaken training in any relevant capacity must lodge a record of that training with the management of their establishment.

(including: mountain scrambling, climbing on mountain crags and winter climbing).

The remits of these activities fall outwith the scope of the Single Pitch Award and require a supervisor to hold a Mountain Instructors qualification.

Environmental, Social and Cliff Considerations Related to Training

Attention should be paid to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Basic codes of conduct should be established before the session begins. This includes:

  • Personal responsibility for behaviour in a hazardous place.
  • Etiquette to other crag users.
  • Awareness of conservation issues e.g. over use, litter, flora and fauna, trees,

(including: mountain scrambling, climbing on mountain crags and winter climbing).

The remits of these activities fall outwith the scope of the Single Pitch Award and require a supervisor to hold a Mountain Instructors qualification.

Environmental, Social and Cliff Considerations Related to Training

Attention should be paid to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Basic codes of conduct should be established before the session begins. This includes:

  • Personal responsibility for behaviour in a hazardous place.
  • Etiquette to other crag users.
  • Awareness of conservation issues e.g. over use, litter, flora and fauna, trees,

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