Category Archives: risk management

Utah Zip Tour Fatality – Some Thoughts

I’ve not commented on incidents that have occurred over the past several months for the sole purpose of not having my blog seem focused on such negative aspects of our industry. I’ve been following developments concerning a fatality on May 20th on a zip tour at a resort in Utah.

As an ropes challenge course director, my brain immediately starts picking apart incidents like this – what happend, what got missed, what failed, who screwed up, etc.
In this particular case, a woman suffered severe injuries while riding the zip line, ultimately dying of those injuries. Subsequent reports indicate she apparently struck a tree top that had broken off and was laying on the line she was riding. A High Wind Warning had been issued that day for the area, with 30-40mph sustained winds & gusts to 60mph.

With a lawsuit almost certain in this case, I have to keep my incident analysis to myself, but my list of “whys”is pretty long.

Please folks, be safe!

I’m back!

This is a long overdue post, but it has been a crazy fall season. This past week had me on the road – first stop was a trainer certification workshop thru the Professional Ropes Course Association, immediately followed by a few days at Scioto Hills Camp, where I presented challenge course-related workshops for the National Association of Regular Baptist Camps conference being held there. A great road trip, connecting with old friends, meeting new ones, and talking ropes. Doesn't get much better… but it is beaten by getting back home to my family. 🙂


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The day I didn’t want to be a Ropes Guy

This morning, while vacationing with my family in Tennessee, a 35yr old employee at Wahoo Zipline fell 50'.

What the *#@*#)! is happening to our industry in the United States? It seems every few weeks someone falls somewhere… employee headers off a platform, girl drops 100' from a Giant Swing she wasn't even clipped into, etc.

An industry that once boasted safety records “safer than selling insurance” is now a regular news item.

I'm tired of the ever-increasing body count.

[end of rant]


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Adventure Park Death

Another injury resulting in death this week on an aerial adventure park that opened 5 DAYS before the date of the incident. Opinions kept to myself as there will most probably be legal actions brought.


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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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A Backlog of Death

It’s a bizarre title, but it doesn’t compare to the tumult I’m experiencing right now.

I was going to post last month re: the June 11th zipline death of a 12yr old girl at a summer camp, but I held off. I wondered, “it’s relevant to ropes courses & risk management, but do I have to post every injury or death?”

Then a 16yr old girl died earlier this week on a Giant Swing… followed the next day by a 54yr old zipline guide who plummeted 150′ to his death (his second day on the job, btw.)

The absurdity of my thought today – “I’ve got a backlog of deaths to post.”


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Camp Staff Injured in Fall From Course

Ran across this today concerning a ropes course incident that occurred yesterday afternoon. Details are scarce as investigations are conducted.


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If you build it, they will come… but should they?

Ok, here's a rant that's been percolating for a while. Adventure programming is awesome! As ziplines and adventure parks continue to gain in popularity, the allure attracts developers in venues both large and small. Am I saying this is a bad idea? Absolutely not. However, as one who lives & breathes adventure programming, we can't forget a very important point:

Done wrong, people are hurt or killed utilizing these activities!

Honestly, I believe construction of these projects is the easy part. It's a willingness to invest in the following that tell me how long you'll last (or if I'll read about you in the news!) A couple points to consider:

  • Qualified staff – This starts from the top down. Somebody on site needs to be the qualified “expert” for their course. That person is responsible for the well being of everyone who touches that program – every participant, every instructor, etc. How thorough is the initial training for new staff? How are new staff supervised to ensure consistency in trained practices, policies, etc.? Are staff trained to handle emergencies on the course?
  • Equipment maintenance/ replacement – All programs, especially high throughput ones like ours, has to expect equipment to wear out. Our 900' ziplines we built in 2013 experience over 20,000 zip cycles annually, using a powered hydraulic lowering system. Expect to spend money to replace equipment as you burn through it through normal use.

I understand this post is pretty short – I could spend a day just talking about gear selection. Bottom line – gravity always works, folks! By adding high adventure activities to your facility's lineup, be prepared to do it right. Over the long haul, you'll stand out from the crowd as a program to be respected and emulated, serving many happy participants for years to come.



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What a great time at the Christian Camp & Conference Association’s 2015 Wisconsin Sectional, hosted by Honey Rock. I had the opportunity to share a bit about challenge course risk management to a number of camping professionals.

As I creep toward 50 years of age, I still can’t believe I do what I do for a career. Besides enjoying the job for myself, I get to impart lessons learned over nearly 20 years in camping ministry. Way cool!

Even more cool? I get to experience this journey alongside some of the most awesome & unique individuals, all with passions to serve God & impact lives in eternal ways utilizing the wonders of creation.

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Rope Access & Ropes Courses

wpid-Photo-20150302104030325.jpgThis has been rattling around in my head for a while, time to get it out & share. 🙂

Almost 20 years ago, I remember when performing work on our ropes courses and climbing tower meant grabbing my sport climbing harness, miscelaneous program hardware, and a generous assortment of personally-owned, “off the radar” gear for which no inspection records existed, and the only known history consisted of how well I remembered when I bought it.

Ah, those were the days!

Don’t get me wrong, the crowd I hung with were pretty meticulous with our gear. We weren’t stupid, after all. We knew the manufacturer’s lifespans of equipment, how many hard falls a rope could take, marked purchase dates on the tails of webbing, tags on harnesses. We were young. We were free!

Fast forward a couple decades, and oh how things like OSHA, ANSI Z359, and ANSI/PRCA 1.0-.3 2014 “Ropes Challenge Course Installation, Operation & Training Standards” have complicated things… or maybe they actually serve to encourage us to step it up a notch (or three!)

As a Challenge Course Manager, I require myself and/or subordinate employees to perform work at height. There are standards for that, standards that will have OSHA on your doorstep faster than [insert metaphor here] if you or your staff take a header due to lack of proper equipment, training & experience. The associated fines can be crippling, the lawsuits could shut you down. Do you really want to take that chance?

The standards don’t say you have to be certified in it, just that you’re doing it. Over the past few years, I’ve been self-educating myself in the world of industrial rope access techniques. YouTube is a great reference for building awareness of techniques, equipment, etc. Hey, don’t rule out pursuing SPRAT certification, but it is pricey, especially working for a non-profit with limited budgets. If you like FREE TRAINING, get plugged in with Over The Edge ( With some experience, you can work events as a ropes volunteer, under the direct supervision of SPRAT-certified technicians. It’s like free on-the-job training in industrial rope access techniques & equipment… plus they feed & give you a t-shirt. Can’t beat that!

Be safe, all!