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Climbing, Belaying, COVID and Beyond

What do we know?

In our current COVID world, there has been a concerning sharp spike of ground falls in UK climbing centres post lockdown one.

In one seven-day period, in the latter part of 2020, we had reports of the equivalent number of these incidences that we would usually expect in a ‘normal’ year.

After extensive discussions, the authors of this piece decided that scrutiny of these Incidents and Accidents was prudent to learn lessons for the future.   The authors looked at the wearing of masks in climbing centres, and the accident data respectively.

About the Authors: Joby Maw Davis is a Full AMI member and holds the Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor qualification.  He is a Technical advisor for a lot of the major climbing walls in the UK.  He is also a Technical expert for NICAS and the Association of British Climbing Walls as well as a provider for many of the Mountain Training National Governing Body awards.

Libby Peter is a Full Mountain Guide and a Member of the British Mountain Guides.  Between them their technical knowledge of rock climbing both indoors and outdoors is unsurpassed 😊. Neither of them “work” (i.e. are paid) by AMI.  This article and research was done independent of AMI but AMI both support it and back it.

Possible explanations could be:

  • Climbers who have taken a break from climbing may have rusty skills (Skills fade posh term)
  • The past year has been rough; we can all agree on that. More people may be mentally and emotionally exhausted than an average year.
  • People are excited to return to their hobbies, but are they prepared?

Observations:

  • All the noted accidents and incidents involved lead climbing (belaying).
  • They all resulted in ground falls of varying seriousness.
  • Climbers and belayers involved were not novices and had climbed at the centre they were in at the time of the occurrence numerous times since the end of lockdown one.
  • Accidents and incidents occurred generally in the first half of the route attempted.

What are the variables that have the potential to cause climbers / belayers issues?

Skills fade – quick confidence gains… then complacency.  These incidents have not involved novices.

Amplification of previously ‘just off’ good practice. For example, poor belayer positioning and slack management; this is especially important while the climber is around 2nd-4th clips as lead falls from here require very quick reactions by the belayer to prevent a ground fall.  There is a likelihood, if climbers and belayers were operating in a slightly sloppy fashion pre COVID (unconscious incompetence or conscious incompetence), that their skills will have slid somewhat.

Face mask issues

Even the neatest fitting facemask restricts lower peripheral vision. In other words, it is harder to see the ground just in-front of your feet. This leads to more frequent trips and falls (mostly in the elderly), but it also makes it harder to glance down and see what’s going on at your belay device, creating a number of potential problems:

1. Blocks the view of how much slack is out immediately in-front of the belay device. It’s possible to have a loop of slack out (i.e. too much slack) and not realise.

2. Less confidence in making quick adjustments to the amount of slack out (slack management). Some belayers need to look down at the belay device when paying out or taking in.

3. Can’t see trip hazards around feet (such as rope) so might result in the belayer moving around less to adjust slack, or an actual trip.

Poor fitting masks

4. Habitual readjustment of mask as it slips down over nose – means two hands not on the rope.

Belay glasses and masks

5. This combination definitely further limits lower peripheral vision leaving only a slim letter box view.

6. Moving belay glasses into place as leader reaches second or third clip could be even slower with mask on – and may knock the mask out of place leading to point 4 above.

Prescription glasses and masks

Glasses steaming up is a big issue for belayers and leads to a few scenarios, all of which have their own potential impact on effective belaying:

7. Leave steamed up glasses in place and have trouble seeing clearly enough to detect climber movements that might suggest an imminent fall, or to preempt clipping.

8. Take glasses off and, depending on quality of vision without glasses, have trouble seeing as above.

9. Alternate between glasses on and off resulting in two hands not on the rope.

10. Leave glasses on and pull mask down to prevent fogging – and reduce Covid safety.

Some real-life suggestions to help makes your first steps ‘back’, as safe as possible for your and your partner.

Climbers

Why not treat the first session back as a refresher of all belaying elements?

Take things more slowly than you would do ‘normally’. How about a top-rope before leading if haven’t climbed in a mask on for example?

Make no assumptions about belaying/climbing skills for you and you partners / s

Never forget the lifesaving PARTNER CHECK

Belay device/rope compatibility check, have you purchased new equipment?

Be extra vigilant; remember other’s actions could also impact on you and your partner’s safety.

Communication – revisit with your partner your communication routine, it may well have been some time since you climbed together!

Instructors and coaches

Expect to give more support than normal to your climbers and belayers, remember the operational changes in your sessions will be well drilled for you, but they will be new to your climbers.

Mask education – help clients to develop a mask system that is Covid safe and climb safe.

Have extra vigilance when backing up belaying, it is probably the case that in your centre / organisation you are dealing with this in a more socially distanced fashion.

Be prepared and equipped to intervene quickly if deemed necessary. Have these drills been well practiced amongst staff?

Frame of Reference

Minor Interactions :- Behaviours and or actions that can contribute to the increased chances of any of the above

Near Miss:- An event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill health

Incident:- a set of conditions or circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health and could result in damage to equipment and facilities.

Accident:- An event that results in injury or ill health

Many thanks to the authors Joby Maw Davis (AMI) Climbing and Mountain Training http://www.jobymawdavis.co.uk/and Libby Peter (IFMGA Guide)

COVID 19 Update – Maintaining records of staff, customers & staff

Test & Trace

  • The Government has confirmed that test and trace obligations will resume when the industry reopens from 12 April, including for outdoor use only and to remain in place until at least September.
  • In a change to previous requirement, the contact details for all persons in a party must be captured – it is no longer sufficient to have the lead booker only. This means that for pre-booked activities either all contact details must be captured at the point of booking or customers will have to scan a QR code or provide contact details manually on arrival.
  • There is an additional requirement for hospitality businesses to take ‘reasonable steps’ to refuse entry to those not providing contact details or scanning the QR code. If reasonable measures to restrict are not successful, it will not be illegal for a customer to enter the premises.
  • It is a legal requirement for premises to display the QR code posters – even if they choose to collect data by other means – and they will be sending to businesses w/c 29 March. Businesses in Wales will need to comply with both legal requirements.
  • The Government will engage in a media and comms campaign to alert members of the public to the new requirements.
  • The requirement to capture contact data applies not just to customers but also staff and visitors (not deliveries) so a record should be kept of staff rotas. Staff are also welcome to scan in.https://www.gov.uk/guidance/maintaining-records-of-staff-customers-and-visitors-to-support-nhs-test-and-trace

AALA Update – Preparations for re-opening when Covid restrictions are lifted

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Business Interruption – Claims Information

Dear Member

Thank you for bearing with us as we discussed with the Supporting Insurers the evidence required to establish a case of Covid-19 being at the premises for cover to be afforded and a claim to be submitted.

Supporting insurers have now agreed that satisfactory proof of any of the following will be accepted as evidence that a staff member or visitor who was at the premises between the 5th and 26th March 2020 had symptoms:-

  • Staff sickness record
  • GP sickness certificate
  • Self certification for absence from work
  • Log of a call to GP to report symptoms/seek advice
  • GP entry in medical records to confirm symptoms and duration and advice given
  • Log of a call to NHS 111 to report symptoms/seek advice
  • Admission to Hospital with Covid-19 symptoms
  • Positive Covid-19 test result (albeit testing may have been very limited in March 2020)
  • A signed witness statement confirming symptoms, length of symptoms and duration of illness period, details of length of absence from work, return date to work and medical assistance sought together with supporting evidence.

You do not need to provide evidence of all of the above; if you produce satisfactory evidence of one, that will suffice.

If you are able to produce evidence to support a case at the premises, please send details to cvclaims@activitiesmutual.com so we can process your claim and then seek further information from you regarding financial losses.

AIM’s guide to the Hardening Insurance Market

We are aware of the financial issues that many of our Members are still facing. At the time of writing, we will also be familiar with the new dates for easing of the lockdown and hope that this brings comfort that businesses can start to reopen and once again our Members can provide their much-needed activities.

Unfortunately, over the last 12 months the insurance market has hardened considerably and some insurance customers are finding that prices have increased across a range of different covers.

What is a ‘Hard Market’?

A hardened insurance market usually affects customers in the following ways:

  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Fewer insurers
  • Reduced choice of products
  • More restrictive cover

What causes a Hard Insurance Market?

Like other financial markets, the insurance market also changes depending on supply and demand.  The insurance market usually follows a cycle which fluctuates between a hard market and a soft market. There are many factors that can lead to changes in the insurance market.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, several underlying market factors were contributing towards the insurance market hardening, including:

  • extreme weather events such as Storm Dennis and Ciara affecting property claims
  • interest rates staying low
  • a general rise in insurance claims (particularly in the home and motor insurance sectors)
  • changes to the Ogden rate, the rate used to calculate future losses in high value compensation claims, which also have an impact on the levels of compensation payments made to claimants.

When coupled with pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, these factors have inevitably reduced insurers’ appetite for offering extensive cover or charging low premiums.

How is AIM Supporting Members?

AIM is doing all it can to provide the best, tailored, cover for Members, at the most competitive price, because we fully appreciate that many of our Members continue to face ongoing financial difficulties.

Therefore, when your renewal is due, the team will ask you to provide up to date information on your business so they can provide your quotation and ensure that it is accurately meeting your needs.  This will include details of your annual turnover and wage roll figures and any other information about the activities you provide.  If you are no longer offering or providing a particular activity, please let the team know as you don’t need to be paying for cover you no longer require.   We will always try to be as competitive as possible on prices so please do chat to the team if you have any queries.

We are committed to providing the best service for our Members and if you have any further queries or feedback please do come back to us. 

Update to Members on Business Interruption – February 2021

Dear Member

Thank you for bearing with us as we engaged with the Mutual’s Supporting Insurers, MS Amlin, regarding the Business Interruption cover following the FCA Test case and the subsequent decision of the Supreme Court.  I am very pleased to confirm that we have reached agreement with MSA.  Following a constructive discussion with them, we can confirm that the cover wording provided by AIM will provide cover for Business Interruption caused as a result of the lockdown commencing in March 2020, subject to the criteria shown below.

The AIM cover wording requires there to have been a case of the virus “at the premises” which has resulted in restrictions on the use of the premises, on the order or advice of the Government, for the policy to provide cover.  Therefore, we confirm that there will be cover in the following circumstances:-

The first lockdown period 26th March 2020 to 4th July 2020

  1. You must be able to demonstrate a case of Covid-19 at your premises (being the premises as detailed in your policy) between the 5th and 26th March 2020. The 5th March is the date that Covid-19 was classified as a Notifiable Disease and the 26th March was the date the Regulations confirmed the national lockdown.
  2. If the criteria in 1. above is met, you are able to submit a claim for Business Interruption suffered as a result of the Lockdown from 26 March.  That Lockdown ended on 4 July when most businesses were able to re-open.   Some businesses were, of course, able to re-open before 4 July.  In either case your loss will be calculated accordingly and the indemnity payable will reflect the period of closure and the effect of re-opening although, of course, the overall indemnity will reflect losses suffered throughout the relevant Period of Indemnity. 
  3. If you had a case of Covid-19 at the premises after the 26th March and before the 4th July 2020, this case cannot be said to have caused the lockdown as it was already in force.

 The second lockdown period 5th November to 29th December 2020 and third lockdown January 2021 to March 2021

  1. In respect of the second lockdown from the 5th November 2020 to the 29th December 2020, and subsequent third lockdown period from January 2021 to March 2021, if you had a case of Covid-19 at your premises as specified in your policy schedule, in sufficient proximity to the start of the second and third lockdown periods, then there may be cover for losses suffered in the second and third lockdown periods.

 Ongoing restrictions on Residential Centres

We fully appreciate that some of our Members have been unable to reopen or resume residential visits and residential activities due to ongoing restrictions by the Department for Education.   There may be cover beyond the 4th July 2020 for such situations, while those restrictions continue.

 Exclusion Clause from 26th March 2020

MSA placed an exclusion clause on the BI wording relating to Covid-19 from the 26th March 2020.  Therefore any policies which renewed and any new policies starting after the 26th March 2020 contain the exclusion and cover would not be available.  Therefore you may have cover for the first but not for any subsequent lockdown periods.

Claims

If you consider that you are able to meet the above criteria, we invite you to submit details of your claim to cvclaims@activitiesmutual.com.  Due to the likely volume of the claims and their complexity we will be instructing Loss Adjusters to handle the claims for AIM.  Further details as to the evidence you will need to show for a case being at your premises and confirmation of what financial documentation is required will be sent out to you.

I hope that for so many of our Members who have been through such a very difficult year that this provides some comfort.

 

 

 

Andrew Gardiner

Chair of the AIM Board

February 2021 

 

How has AIM Helped Members During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

When the National lockdown was announced in March 2020 it affected every AIM Member. Despite the schemes announced by Government like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the more recent Job Support Scheme, without being allowed to open or open fully, there have been some very difficult decisions to make and some Members have still not been able to reopen even partially.

To provide as much assistance and support as possible, AIM adjusted Members’ covers to reflect the reduced risks, covering just the essentials, and in turn provided refunds or amended monthly direct debits to ensure more money remained in your businesses. AIM also offered a 3 month payment holiday to any Members who paid monthly to assist with cash flow problems.

The AIM team have been working at home, answering your questions and concerns as quickly and as best they can, as well as juggling their own personal lives with home schooling and reduced childcare facilities.  With over 750 members and a small but dedicated team this was not an easy undertaking.  We have been reviewing risk assessments and helping you navigate the maze of Government guidance as restrictions were eased and local lockdowns imposed. All of the team have been grateful for your understanding and support in these unprecedented times.  With news about the vaccine roll out and a New Year upon us we know many of you will be looking to the future and planning for the restart of the outdoor industry and your businesses.  We hope that the Mutual continues to feature in your plans as your choice for liability cover.

AIM has also been working with organisations like the IOL and the UK Outdoors body, Save Outdoor Ed and Save Your Outdoor Centres to lobby Government to restart the outdoor industry.

As to the future and what 2021 will bring, we know there is still uncertainty about when the sector will be back up to running fully again.  With staff on furlough and very few or no activities being run,  the likelihood of claims is significantly reduced, but you should still check your property (equipment and buildings) regularly to ensure that there are no issues and that they remain secure.

Unfortunately we cannot provide another payment holiday as we did in the initial lockdown when the period of closure was uncertain. However, we do understand the financial difficulties and anxiety the ongoing pandemic is causing and have already helped hundreds of Members with their renewals by talking through their requirements and providing reduced cover where possible.   As you come around to your renewal AIM will work with you to provide as much flexibility as possible to ensure you aren’t paying for cover you don’t need presently, with the opportunity to scale it up when you do.

This is your Mutual and we want to work with you to ensure we are keeping you informed and reacting to your needs and requirements.

Business Interruption – FCA ruling

We are aware of the judgement handed down by the Supreme Court on the FCA test case and whilst we do not believe it changes the position in relation to cover provided by AIM we have referred the matter to our legal team for independent review.  The FCA highlighted that each policy must be considered against the detailed, “complex” judgement to work out what it means for any particular policy.  This as you can imagine will take time to fully understand and as soon as we have a final answer this will be circulated to the Members of the Mutual that this may affect.

We would like to thank you for your continued patience.

UK Outdoors – Restart Outdoor Education 2021

Recent developments have led to UK Outdoors issuing the following statement regarding Government’s roadmap to restarting Outdoor Education by Easter 2021.

https://www.outdoor-learning.org/News/Latest-News/press-release-from-uk-outdoors-welcoming-governments-roadmap-to-restarting-outdoor-education

Health and Safety spot checks and inspections during COVID-19

We know that many outdoor providers cannot operate at the moment but for those AIM Members who are able to operate, we think it’s important to be aware that the Health & Safety Executive are carrying out health and safety spot checks and inspections on all types of businesses during COVID-19.  Please make sure you view the video and link to the HSE page to keep up to date and to ensure you are fully compliant.

By calling and visiting premises and speaking directly to employers, they can check the measures that you’ve put in place are in line with government guidance.

https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/regulating-health-and-safety/spot-inspections.htm