The Importance of “Old Dogs”

This has been roiling in the depths of the “Dave Brain” for some time, and is very timely in light of recent incidents in the ropes challenge course industry.

Two fatalities involving new hires on zipline tours in little more than a year, participants hurt or killed while under the watch of “more mature staff” who were “fully trained”, “recently certified”, etc.

Where were the experienced staff, the trainers, the ones with more than an initial training and a handful of experience hours under their belts? Where were the “Old Dogs?”

According to ANSI/PRCA 1.2 Operational Standards for Ropes Challenge Courses, this requirement falls on the shoulders of the owner/operator of the course. Any time “Authorized Person” level staff are performing work, a “Competent Person” is required to be on location (H.2.8 Supervision.)

Bottom line? The vertical environment we work in is both exciting and deadly. As course owners and operators, we can never forget that. When I put a new batch of instructors in the field, dropping their names in the schedule, I am potentially putting them in harm's way. Sure, they've been through my exhaustive training, completed all required skills assessments, but that still doesn't change the fact that they are woefully inexperienced. For the first several weeks, new hires are never scheduled without an experienced instructor to ensure actions are consistent with training and procedures, answer questions, model behavior, etc.

The trending growth of ziplines and aerial adventure parks concerns me, not from the standpoint of industry exposure. I think it's great that more and more people each year get to stretch themselves through these experiences. What I really hope is that those behind the operations of these courses have truly counted the cost. Paying for an outside training company to administer an annual training/ recert and thinking that's enough to ensure staff and guest safety is incredibly shortsighted.

I know firsthand of a program that had the annual refreshers, course and equipment inspections by 3rd party vendors. What they lacked was the presence of the “Old Dogs.” Little to no oversight of newly trained guides, bad habits crept in… they were an incident waiting to happen, and it did eventually happen. Something that would've easily been caught and mitigated was missed, resulting in a participant falling 30' from their climbing wall.

Planning, design & construction are the easy steps… daily operations are what really sets a program apart from the rest. Staffing is the last place you want to skimp, for the safety of your employees and guests.

Be safe, all!

 

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