As one of the most interactive activities in the amusement industry, rock climbing is notorious for its social scene, drawing people with common interests together. However, individuals who seek adventure and exercise on indoor or outdoor climbing walls may not know the half of it when it comes to the risks of serious injury and even death.
Advertised as a superb place to celebrate a birthday, attend a “camp”, or engage employees in team-building events, climbing walls may give a person much more than they bargained for. Climbing walls are supposed to be fun and great opportunities to build stamina and strength, but due to poor regulation, maintenance, and design, climbing wall accidents have the power to forever change a person’s life.
What Can Go Wrong on Climbing Walls?
Before a consumer gets into a harness and defies gravity on a rock climbing structure, he or she is typically required to sign a waiver. These forms usually emphasize that a person understands all of the risks involved in participating in a daredevil activity. However, should something go wrong, all liability isn’t signed away.
The dangers of climbing walls are prominent when constructed by individuals not used to running such operations. However, the risks don’t go away even at the most established rock climbing facility.
Some of the most common causes of rock climbing injuries include the following:
- Failure of ropes, bolts, chains, slings, anchor points, climbing hardware, or any other component of the climbing wall structure
- Skin contact with the climbing wall causing cuts and abrasions
- Climbing wall falls
- Hitting rock structures and projections
- Activity on or near the climbing wall, such as climbing, lowering on the rope, belaying, or any other type of rope technique causing entanglement, rope abrasion, or other injuries
- Falling climbers or dropped items (ropes, holds, and other climbing hardware) causing injury to those below
With these points in mind, it’s no wonder that rock climbing accidents can cause any, if not all, of the below:
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Broken Bones
- Torn Ligaments
- Bone Fractures
How Many People Are Injured?
A study conducted by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) gathered rock climbing statistics for people of all ages from 1990 through 2007. It was established that more than 9,000,000 individuals rock climb annually. Unfortunately, about 40,282 people required emergency medical attention for injuries associated with a rock climbing accident. Results from the study found that lower extremities were injured the most at 46.3% of all injuries out of any other body part. Ankle injuries came in at 19.2% of all injuries, upper extremities were injured in 29.2% of cases, head injuries accounted for 12.2%, and trunk injuries were 10.5%. Although the average age of injured climbers was 26-years-old, 56% of individuals injured from rock climbing were between the ages of 20-39, and men made up 71.8% of all rock climbing injury cases. The study didn’t distinguish between indoor or outdoor rock climbing injuries, but it is estimated that the majority of climbing occurs indoors.
Decoding the Writing on the Wall
Whether at a rock climbing facility, gym, carnival, amusement park, shopping center, mall, or do-it-yourself structure at a private residence, rock climbing walls are inherently dangerous. With the weight of a person’s body at the mercy of the harness and ropes holding them, a person rock climbing also puts their well being in the hands of those managing the rope systems and the structure of the wall itself. Some rock walls are as high as forty feet in the air and others offer climbs across ceilings. While many rock climbing facilities boast that their structures are for “all levels” and both kids and adults, even veteran climbers can suffer catastrophic injuries or worse. As the loose cannon of the amusement industry, there are no federal regulations to ensure that rock climbing walls adhere to strict safety standards to help prevent harm befalling consumers. This needs to change – and fast.