Rock Wall Climbing Guidance for Leaders

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:

Specifically, the following should be considered:

  • Familiarisation with the wall.
  • The area in the vicinity of the wall must be clear of obstructions such as equipment and apparatus.
  • Where applicable, nets should be in place to protect wall users from activities carried out by other hall users.
  • Bookings by other hall/area users should not conflict with the aims of the wall climbing session.
  • Information should be given to group members concerning appropriate clothing and  footwear


  • Equipment
  • Clothing, Footwear and Associated Considerations
  • Group Activity, Security and General Safe Practice
  • Ratios(Qualified Staff to Students)
  • Water Hazards
  • Preperation of Participants

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.

Instructors should note the following:

  • Clothing should be non-restrictive.
  • Hair should be tied back.
  • Jewellery should be removed.
  • Appropriate shoes should be worn. Soft soled or specialist climbing shoes are best.

The overall safety of a rockwall climbing session is dependent on good instruction and safe practice. Flexibility and the ability to react quickly and effectively to unexpected circumstances should be built into whichever systems the instructor chooses to use.

For safe and effective rockwall climbing sessions, instructors should consider the following:

  • Knowledge of the group is important - especially in terms of behavioural problems,  medical/physical considerations, previous experience.
  • 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.
  • Abseil ropes should be releasable from ground level.
  • A height restriction should be imposed for un-roped climbing. Generally feet should be no more than a metre above ground level.
  • 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 climber

  • 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

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.

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.

Basic prior instruction/training in the use and care of personal and key items of equipment cannot be over emphasised. A systematic progression of teaching of care of equipment and proper use is needed for children and it should never be assumed that understanding has taken place until it has been tested in a supervised situation. The latter is especially relevant in the teaching of the use of a belay plate.



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