Abseiling

Introduction

You must refer to the Requirements for All Sport and Physical Activity to understand your overall compliance responsibilities. 

Many schools as part of environmental education, sport or outdoor recreation programs engage in abseiling from natural or artificial surfaces.

Abseiling involves a person descending a rope using a friction device. The following safety guidelines apply to the top rope belay system.

For all abseiling activities, the teacher-in-charge, in consultation with the instructor, must produce a documented risk assessment of the activity prior to the activity being approved by the principal. This assessment will identify major risks and hazards and make judgements as to the likely occurrence of difficulties, their severity and consequences. It will also indicate any actions that are being taken to minimise or reduce risks and hazards.

Schools should ensure that a confirmed plan is communicated with land managers and emergency services prior to departure.

Multi-pitch climbs must not be included in school abseiling activities.

Parents or caregivers must be informed of full details of the location, supervision to be provided, activities to be undertaken, degree of difficulty, clothing requirements, the communication system and protocols to be used, cost and intended departure and return times before their written consent is obtained.

The consent forms must contain:

  • A clause authorising medical aid if it is considered necessary by the teacher-in-charge/supervising teacher.
  • A section where the parent advises the school of any illness or medical condition that the student suffers from, or any medication the student is currently taking (including asthma sprays, etc) or may be required for use in an emergency, for example, EpiPens.

Preparation of an 'alert list' of student medical condition, prior to departure is the responsibility of the teacher-in-charge.

Instructor Qualifications and Experience

Essential experience and training required of the instructor includes:

  • Accreditation in accordance with industry standards e.g. Certificate IV -Outdoor recreation with specialisation in relevant abseiling units or equivalent, or
  • Registered Abseiling Leader - National Outdoor Leader Registration Scheme (NOLRS), or
  • Single Pitch Certification-Australian Climbing Instructors Association (ACIA)

Essential current knowledge of abseil instructor:

  • Recent experience at the location to be used.
  • Training in group management procedures appropriate to the safe conduct of the activity.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of current training in rescues from emergency situations including vertical rescue procedures.
  • Current first aid certificate at appropriate level for remoteness of area.
  • Current knowledge of the use and care of abseiling equipment.
  • Significant experience in single-rope techniques and able to deal with emergencies.
  • Familiarity with a range of abseil techniques, and be able to transfer from one system to another.

Supervision

At least two (2) adult supervisors must accompany students.

At the cliff 1:6 instructor to student ratio applies. In establishing supervision for students away from the cliff face and not directly involved in the abseil at the time, the teacher-in-charge should take into account such factors as age, experience and maturity of the students, environmental concerns, difficulty of the terrain and other challenges likely to be encountered and experience of the adult supervisors.

For conservation and safety reasons, party size should be no more than 12 in wilderness areas. Party size should be chosen keeping in mind safety, minimal impact on the environment, and disturbance to others using the location.

Where an adult other than a teacher accompanies the group to provide instruction or to assist with supervision, a teacher must be present to take overall responsibility for students.

Equipment

  • Equipment must be well maintained and suitable for the activity. A system for monitoring the condition, reporting and removing damaged equipment is established and maintained.
  • Helmets, harnesses, belay devices and karabiners must be manufactured to a recognised standard (where they exist); these include UIAA, EN and/or Australian Standards.
  • All ropes are a minimum of 9mm in diameter and manufactured for Abseiling activities.
  • Tape slings that have a safe working load (SWL) that exceeds 1000kg.
  • All abseiling equipment is used in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications.
  • Equipment should not be used after the manufacturer's expiry date. This includes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Vertical rescue equipment appropriate to the specific activity site at the time of the activity must be available.
  • Communication Equipment appropriate to the activity context is available. This may include a mobile phone, satellite mobile phone, UHF radio and/or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).
  • A water resistant method of storing and carrying communications and first aid equipment is available.
  • A First Aid Kit appropriate to the activity context, level of training and qualification is at the site.
  • Access to spare clothing for use in an emergency is available.
  • Clothing and footwear need to be appropriate to the activity, taking into account environment and weather conditions. Closed toe shoes are to be worn at all times.
  • Helmets are to be worn and secured throughout any activity. Caps/hats should not be worn under the helmets.
    Gloves may be used at the discretion of the instructor.
  • All jewellery is to be removed.
  • Glasses to be secured and long hair tied back so as not get caught up in a belay device or other equipment.

Venues

Locations should be selected from national parks, state forests, state recreation areas, Crown lands, and private property. In all cases, the appropriate prior permission must be obtained. Checks must be made with the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office, police or other local authorities about current access restrictions, fire bans, etc.
Schools are not to utilise any part of an on-site facility for abseiling or related activities requiring the building to take the strain of students and or instructors and equipment.

The proposed abseil must be thoroughly assessed by a suitably qualified instructor or expert in relation to its dangers and the abilities of the proposed abseilers. The venue must enable safe walking access to the top and bottom of the abseiling site.

The abseil site should be clear and free of all loose debris such as scree, detached blocks and vegetation.

Features of an abseil site for novice abseilers may include:

  • A length eight to ten metres.
  • A take-off point which has easy access.
  • Belay points which are higher than the take-off point.
  • Easy angled rock slab, without edges or overhangs.
  • A large flat area at the base of the abseil.
  • The belayer must have visual and/or audio contact with the abseiler for the entire length of the abseil.

When selecting the venue and planning the program, the teacher-in-charge will seek to minimise the group’s impact on the environment.

Safety

Before venturing on to the rock face, students must have had prior training in the use of equipment, basic abseil techniques and safe working procedures. The abseil leaders must carry a card detailing procedures to follow in emergencies and contact numbers.

Three zones need to be identified and communicated:

  • 'On rope zone" - the area immediately around the dispatch area. Students must be attached to a rope before entering this area.
  • 'Safe zone' - established for students at the top and bottom of the cliff face. Students must be instructed to remain in the designated safe zone when not abseiling. Where possible, a perimeter rope should be installed at the cliff top to prevent students venturing too close to the edge. This rope can be attached to trees at a height of one (1) metre.
  • No go zone" - students stay away from this zone completely.

The range of activities undertaken in outdoor recreation pursuits is extensive. Principals need to ensure that participating staff have levels of first aid training appropriate to the proposed activity.

At least one/instructor/teacher must have a Leaders Wilderness Advanced First Aid credential (or equivalent), where medical aid may take several hours or longer to reach a casualty, on extended walks in remote areas.

For abseils in wilderness or remote areas, trip details (including numbers and names of the party) should be given to responsible adult who should be instructed to contact the Principal as well as the police, SES and RFGS if the party has not returned five (5) hours after the party is due. In case of an afternoon or similar short outing, a two (2) hour follow-up is generally appropriate.

Students are to be instructed to use adequate sun protection, e.g. an SPF 50+, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen reapplied regularly and a hat when it is appropriate.

Safety Checklist

Students must have prior training in:

  • Basic abseil techniques and the use of equipment.
  • Safe working procedures and self-checking procedures.
  • Communication procedures.

Prior to the activity, the teacher-in-charge or the instructor must:

  • Assess the site for dangers and suitability.
  • Brief all teachers, instructors and students on an emergency plan, which has been developed for the site. All participants must know how to put the plan into effect in an emergency.
  • Brief students on:
    • Proposed route to the cliff head and cliff base.
    • Safety standards and procedures to be employed at the cliff edge. Define area boundaries (On rope, safe, no go zones).
    • Location of medical kit and first aid personnel.
    • Location and operation of communication device.
    • Location of first aid personnel.

During the activity, the following safety strategies are to be employed:

  • Each participant to wear suitable clothing and a helmet.
  • All anchor points will have 'back up' anchor points. These will be routinely checked.
  • Enforce cliff edge safety. Abseilers connect to the rope above before entering the on-rope zone. All personnel near the cliff edge must be secured with a safety rope.
  • Regularly inspect ropes for wear and damage every five (5) to seven (7) descents.
  • Use a protective material on the cliff edge to cover any sharp edges that may damage ropes.
  • Continually assess students' technique.

The following despatching procedure is to be employed:

  • Check that the belayer is in place and ready.
  • The belayer will do a visual check of the harness and helmet to ensure it is fitted properly and all buckles are connected as per manufacturer's specification.
  • The belayer will attach the abseiler to the belay rope to the students harness.
  • The belayer will attach the descender and abseil rope to the student.
  • The belayer AND abseiler should check that all karabiners are locked.
  • Use pre-determined two way communications prior to moving off the dispatch area.