From the mountains of Costa Rica to over waterfalls in Hawaii, zip lining has become a vacation acivity destination. Zip lining operations can also be found in summer camps, zoos, fields in the middle nowhere, people’s backyards and lots of other exotic and not-so- exotic locations.
Here’s how they work. A zip line consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, typically made of stainless steel and mounted on an incline. A rider sits in a harness attached to a pulley. At the top of the slope, the user propels forward and gravity does the rest. Depending on your location, it can be quite a thrilling ride to the base.
One of the keys to a safe zip lining experience is knowing something about the company and the operator of the ride. Before you harness your child into a zip line at camp or during a family vacation, ask the operator questions about the ride’s safety and look around. Not every company follows the same safety rules. Though there are currently no national standards for zip line construction and operation, many states have them, and any legitimate operator should also adhere to the standards set by the Association for Challenge Course Technology or the Professional Ropes Course Association.
Here are some questions you can ask:
· If the operation is inspected, how often and by whom.
· What is the company’s safety record?
· What training the operators have.
· Is a safety demonstration included?
Check the area out once you arrive. Do the operators look professional? Look at the equipment provided, including carabiners, ropes, harnesses and helmets. Are they well maintained? Look at the course itself. Do the lines look free from wear and tear? How about the platforms? Do they look sturdy? Do they have guardrails?
Once on the course, make sure you're strapped onto a safety line at all times — not just while you're zipping through space. (Some places require that you have two safety lines hooked on.) Many accidents occur by a simple step off a platform. So if you're on the course (which often means many feet off the ground), you should be safely attached to a line that will catch you if you fall. Also, watch out for other adventurers and the guides. Don't get in their way.
Make sure everyone in the family who is zip lining wears a helmet and has closed-toe shoes.
Nearly 17,000 zip line injuries were treated in emergency rooms from 1997-2012, and most of those injuries were in the last four years, according to a 2015 study by Gary A. Smith, M.D., Dr.P.H., FAAP, and colleagues at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. About half the injuries involved children under 10 years old. Another 33% involved children ages 10-19 years. The study noted that many zip lines are not regulated, and there are no uniform safety standards.
The increase in the number of zip line injuries in children is “an epidemic by any definition,” according to Dr. Smith, past chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
“If kids are using them, you really need to make sure they’re using them in places where people are trained, they know what they’re doing and the zip lines have been constructed in a way that they’re not going to fail,” said Dr. Smith.
Backyard zip line kits sold online and in stores also have been linked to injuries. Earlier this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled a backyard zip line kit (http://1.usa.gov/1XoHrFs) because of a design flaw that made it easy for the cable to separate from the line, causing riders to fall. Riders suffered head injuries and bruises. Another recall was issued in 2014 for backyard zip line trolleys (http://1.usa.gov/1RT6uaY) that released unexpectedly. No injuries were reported. Authors of the 2015 study warned against buying and installing backyard zip lines.
The AAP does not have a policy on zip lines and children. However, Dr. Smith suggested the following safety precautions:
· Requiring riders to wear a helmet, harness and gloves;
· Training operators;
· Inspecting and maintaining equipment regularly; and
· Posting rules and requiring participants to follow them.
“If done correctly, these and other types of outdoor amusements that are there for the thrill … can be done in a safe enough way that it’s reasonable for children to use them,” Dr. Smith said.
Story sources: Trisha Korioth, http://www.aappublications.org/news/2016/07/07/ZipLines070716
John Donovan, http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/stories/6-things-do-you-go-zip-lining