Risk and safety

Posted by Tina Gardner on 29/03/2007

An introduction to risk in climbing and mountaineering. Plus how the BMC is involved in improving safety and promoting best practice.

The BMC Participation Statement say that: The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.

Injuries
Injuries are possible in climbing, hill walking and mountaineering, as in all sporting activities, as a result of over-training, inappropriate training regimes, or poor technique as well as those that might be sustained during a slip or fall, or if something or someone falls on a person. 

Risk
Risks need to be put in context.  There are currently about 5 million climbing wall user visits annually and it has been estimated that between the 1960s and 2005 there were approximately 50 million climbing wall user visits in the UK alone.  During that period there was only one fatality at a wall in England and Wales.  There are 13 million young people in this country.  Of the approximately 700 fatal accidents that occur every year, there is approximately one child death per year in organised adventurous activities in comparison with 457 land transportation accidents (National Statistics).

Risk is an integral part of the activity and can play a vital role in helping young people to acquire these extremely important life skills.  Minimising the risk boils down to having the right level of skill and experience relative to the difficulty of the activity.  When starting out climbing, choose the easiest routes available and work your way up as you feel comfortable.  Accidents can happen due to circumstances over which the climber has no control, such as a rockfall, and in these events first aid training can make all the difference.

Accident rates
Because experienced climbers strive very hard to know their own limitations, the sport enjoys remarkably low accident rates.  Incidents that make news headlines often involve individuals operating in environments for which they were ill-prepared, and this can give a somewhat skewed impression of the dangers involved in the sport.  Many of the ‘climbers’ reported in the media as having been involved in accidents, died or got lost in mountainous areas are not dedicated climbers.  Often they are tourists who have gone out walking or people who don't have much experience in the mountains.  Therefore some of the tragedies that hit the headlines may reflect poorly on dedicated mountaineers who are more likely to be better prepared and not as likely to require mountain rescue. 

The BMC stresses the need for personal responsibility and self reliance in all mountaineering activities. It makes sense to prepare contingency plans in the event of an emergency, to carry first aid and emergency equipment and to invest in some good first aid training. The BMC has been actively involved in a number of initiatives aimed at reducing accident statistics still further. These include Good Practice Seminars for university clubs; series of DVDs (Alpine Essentials DVD, Winter Essentials DVD, Hill Walking Essentials DVD, Off Piste Essentials DVD, Climbing Wall Essentials DVD); the provision of subsidised Winter and Alpine training courses; annual winter and alpine lectures and a range of publications and booklets on safety.

The BMC has produced an introductory booket for parents of young people who participate in climbing-related activities.  The booklet outlines the risks and benefits involved.  Download the booklet here.  The BMC also has a child protection policy.

BMC safety campaign
The BMC continues its campaign to improve safety at climbing walls and bridge the gap between indoor climbing and the less predictable environment climbers face outdoors.  This includes production of publications and DVDs to improve safety and promote best practice.  The BMC has produced signs reminding climbers to "check your knot" and "check your harness".  These have been sent to many climbing walls in England and Wales.  A 'fun' warm up poster has also been produced by the BMC to remind people at indoor walls to warm up before a climbing session.  Read more about the BMC safety campaign.

Equipment advice
For over 30 years the BMC's Technical Group has been issuing safety advice and investigating incidents of failed equipment.  The BMC produces a range of technical advice booklets.  The BMC has run a better bolts campaign to help improve the condition of fixed equipment on many of our classic outdoor climbing routes.  We have also published a user guide to bolts and a bolt installers' guide.


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