From carabiners to clamps to wire rope, there is no substitute for having the proper rigging equipment. Equally as important as the physical pieces—whether your course is two feet off the ground or more than 100 feet up—are training, inspections, proper documentation, and ongoing maintenance. All contribute to a safe, prosperous operation.
At first glance, rigging hardware and equipment is pretty simple machinery. But not all park operators pay sufficient attention to its quality and proper application. Partly, this is due to history. Don Stock, owner of the Adventure Guild in Chattanooga, Tenn., says, “Our industry got its start in the back of the woods with little to no regulation, so people did what they thought was best—and for the most part, things have worked out.”
But times and regulations change. “In today’s marketplace, installers and inspectors have a lot of codes and standards to follow, and this includes the requirements for choosing the right hardware for the application, understanding the safety factor required, and the loads that will be put on the component or system,” he adds.
Proper installation matters, too. Josh Tod, president of RopeWorks in Austin, Texas, has visited several challenge courses and zip line operations where cable clamps were installed upside down or spaced inappropriately. He’s also seen instances in which operators installed the wrong type or size clamp.
“These situations are very common when facilities try to do their own maintenance and the person doing the work is underqualified and has no training,” he says. “Untrained people will often go out to a local hardware store and buy what looks similar. But there can be a vast difference in quality and strength between what should be used and what they installed.” The DIY approach can put staff and guests at risk.
That’s especially true when the job’s tasks entail hoisting and lowering. OSHA requires employers to use qualified riggers during hoisting activities for assembly and disassembly work (1926.140(r)(1)). But operators aren’t always aware of the OSHA rules.
According to Stock, most incidents regarding equipment or system failure in hoisting situations result from a few key factors:
• insufficiently trained people doing a physically demanding task while hanging in a harness 40 feet in the air
• poor communication between the rigging crew, supervisor, and/or the project designer
• use of poorly designed, maintained, or installed hardware and equipment.
ADOPTING A SAFETY PHILOSOPHY
Accidents are preventable with proper selection and installation of equipment, hardware, signage, and training. Only qualified people should operate tools and equipment. If all those conditions are met, risk is minimized considerably.
Don Nagy of Experiential Systems says there is no magic to rigging safety. “Well-trained crews that are properly supervised, trained to understand the industry standards, and provided the correct tools and materials tend to have few to no accidents,” he says. “At the same time, annual or ongoing inspections and maintenance of your adventure park activities and life support systems is critical to prevent accidents.”
For peace of mind, a third-party professional with the proper credentials should complete your annual or periodic adventure park inspections. ACCT offers certification for both in-house and professional inspectors, as does the National Association for Amusement Ride Operators (NAARSO). ACCT and ASTM both require in their written standards that courses and equipment be inspected annually at minimum. However, larger and busier operations may need to adopt more stringent inspection guidelines.
Kennerly de Forest, founder of Challenge Works, recommends that operators start by identifying everything that needs to be inspected, and create an inventory of equipment, components, and activities.
“Make sure you have all available documentation for what you’re going to inspect. This includes manufacturer data sheets, engineering drawings, shop drawings, manuals, and previous inspection reports,” says de Forest. “Then, proceed systematically, one component or system at a time, and examine each piece of hardware or component—touch it, don’t just look at it. Observe the component for dents, breaks, cracks, misalignment, and improper loading or tightness.”
De Forest says that most inspections are very detailed, especially if the original installation was not 100 percent validated with a comprehensive commissioning inspection checklist that recorded items such as load tests, nut and bolt torque checks, and cable tensions.
Operators should also perform more frequent visual and hands-on inspections. “The equipment inspection frequency really depends on the duty cycle of the equipment,” says Brian Brun, a partner with Experiential Resources in Hawaii. “In general, a typical cable termination, eyebolt, belay cable, or harness should be looked at visually each day before use. But once a month, a more complete hands-on inspection of all the systems and components in use should be thoroughly documented by in-house staff.”
That work requires training. Nagy says all Experiential Systems inspectors maintain rigging certifications with Crosby, CM ISC and/or OSHA, and inspector certifications with ACCT, NAARSO or AIMS (Amusement Industry Manufacturers and Suppliers association). These types of training and certifications are available throughout North America for a small to modest fee.
Tod recommends that operators use the ANSI/ACCT standards and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) manuals as references. Brun adds that the Wire Rope Users Guide and the Crosby Rigging Product Application Workbook both have detailed listings of strengths and applications for a variety of common hardware.
If an operator doesn’t possess the paperwork for an inspector to reference, including drawings and plans of the park, Nagy says that information can be determined through testing. “In those cases, we’ll proof test an item, whether an eyebolt, belay cable, or ground anchor, and our inspectors have [the ability]to make a determination in the field.” His team members rely on tools such as load cells, tension meters, and portable proof testers, as well as wire rope wear gauges and calipers, to establish the information the client is lacking, allowing them to document the information for future inspectors.
ACCT, along with subject matter experts, created the challenge course and zip line Inspector Certification Program to help ensure inspectors are properly educated, insured, and licensed to provide inspection services. ACCT currently offers “in-house inspector certification” for those performing daily and quarterly inspections, and “professional inspector certification” for third party and professional inspectors who visit countless adventure facilities that have a broad range of equipment and operational systems. ACCT offers its certification alongside its annual conference in February, with a few additional test days throughout the year. The ACCT Inspector Certification focuses mostly on the ANSI/ACCT standards, with additional focus on the ASTM Amusement Ride standards for the Level II Professional Exam.
In addition to ACCT, some inspectors also carry certifications from NAARSO and/or AIMS. Both NAARSO and AIMS serve the traditional amusement ride industry, and the programs focus on systems like hydraulics, pneumatics, electrical, and magnetic.
Who needs what level of certification? State or provincial law will regulate whether you need to be a certified inspector, and this varies by jurisdiction. Make sure you check with your state or province to determine what the requirements for inspection are, because regulations change frequently.
Stock feels that common sense and thorough training in the proper operation of equipment and maintenance are important, whether you’re a professional builder and inspector, a tour guide, or maintenance staff for the park. To that end, he recommends all technical staff get engaged in the industry and join the ACCT or attend ASTM meetings. This allows technicians to network with peers and vendors, who may have more current information about training practices and recommendations for the way their equipment is used and maintained.
Experiential Resources owner and president Todd Domeck urges that a walkthrough and practical demonstration of maintenance skills should be included as part of staff training. “If you’re provided tools, you should be trained on how to use and care for those tools,” he says.
He notes this is not just to mitigate risk while the park is operating, but also while it’s closed and undergoing maintenance. “Injuries are most common during maintenance procedures,” he says. “Staff should work in teams, with clear communication strategies, including verbal calls and nonverbal hand signals.” Domeck reminds operators to document in a log any training that is completed.
HARDWARE & COMPONENT SELECTION
When shopping for hardware and components, look for the following:
A reputable manufacturer. Hardware used for life support or other critical applications should come from a recognized manufacturer, and that manufacturer should have its name stamped or molded into the product. Be wary of any component that lists only a “country of origin” on it. Examples of reputable hardware manufacturers: Crosby, CM, and Chicago Hardware.
Rated strengths. Critical hardware should have rated breaking strength (BS) or safe working loads (SWL) stamped or molded into the product. Do not exceed the loads listed. Make sure to look at the specific manufacturer’s capacity tables. Pieces of hardware of the same size and type may have different rated capacities depending on the manufacturer. For example, the rated capacity of one 5/8-inch eyebolt may be hundreds of pounds different from the exact same size and type of eyebolt made by a different manufacturer.
Corrosion resistance. This is especially important if the piece of hardware is being used outside. A variety of coatings and materials are available, the most common being hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel.
Direction of load. All hardware is designed for an intended direction of pull, typically in-line. However, many pieces of hardware you’ll find are rated for a reduced load, and this information can be found in the manufacturer’s capacity tables.
Know how to inspect. All reputable hardware manufacturers provide a list of inspection criteria for their components, be it a bolt, shackle, carabiner, or wire rope. Know what potential issues to look for during an inspection, including dings, dents, nicks, corrosion, rust, peening, breaks, cracks, loose components, stuck components, etc.
When in doubt, test. When you can’t identify the manufacturer, size, or strength of the hardware, you can perform a proof test—assuming you have the right tools. Tension meters, portable proof testers, and load cells allow inspectors to verify strength in the field.
Safe rigging starts with the manufacturer and authorized dealers. They can guide you not only on the installation, but recommended safety practices, training, signage, and maintenance requirements. When looking for expert advice, seek reputable vendors that work in and understand the North American work environment and laws.
Additionally, look for vendors who are members of ACCT, NAARSO, AIMS, or other adventure or amusement industry trade groups. Look for certified inspectors and licensed contractors with vast industry knowledge. Last but not least, make sure they have proper insurance coverage.
LIST OF RELIABLE SOURCES
This is a partial list of reliable manufacturers. Please make sure your supplier provides the right product for your needs.
Edward Daniel Company
BC Wire Rope
New England Ropes
Pfeifer (Adventure Park Gear)
Southern Wire Corp
Davey & Company LTD
New England Ropes
Rope Access Hardware
Ropes Park Equipment