AALA Note: 6.16
AALA notes are produced by the AALA to provide information and guidance to adventure activity licence holders and other interested stakeholders
Issue: AALS believe, based on their inspections that the majority of peer and team belaying is of very high standard. Certainly when it becomes aware of belaying which is not of an acceptable standard it takes steps to ensure that this is addressed. Most instructors, whether trained and assessed by an NGB or in-house, perform competently and safely and are carefully managed by employers and managers. However serious accidents arising from poor practice still continue to occur. It is believed that there is a common thread to at least some of the reported incidents, accidents, and near-misses relating to the management or conduct of instructors after their validation to lead climbing sessions.
1. In this note ‘Peer Belaying’ is used to describe the practice of training participants at the start of a climbing or climbing related session to belay, and then using them as the belayer while other participants climb. “Team
Belaying” is used as a specific case of this where more than one person is involved with belaying the climber. Many providers use this approach because it:
• allows more participants to be actively involved as opposed to simply waiting for their turn to climb; and/or
• it helps to create a team situation which is seen as fulfilling the aims of at least some courses or sessions; and/or
• it helps with group management; and/or
• there may be an intention to build progression into the course or programme, leading eventually to independent conventional (i.e. oneto-one) climbing and belaying.
2. The main causes of accidents appear to be human error and are not generally the absence of competence or a lack of appropriate procedures.
Significant factors are believed to include:
• management assuming too much of newly qualified instructors;
• a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of the instructor;
• inappropriate focus of attention by the instructor.
3. The Licensing Authority recognises that safety in the outdoors is largely due to good judgement by the instructor in charge in choosing and implementing the most appropriate techniques for the situation. To constrain that judgement would be counter-productive. This note sets out aspects of good practice in peer belaying and should be considered by providers in their implementation of peer belaying.
AALA, HSE, Mercantile Chambers,
53 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 6TS firstname.lastname@example.org www.hse.gsi.gov.uk/aala
4. The following list sets out the main issues:
• injury to the climber resulting from inadequate belaying;
• injury to the climber, resulting from them becoming detached from the rope; • injury to the belayer(s) resulting from unsafe belaying while the climber is climbing;
• injury to the belayer(s) resulting from unsafe belaying while the climber is being lowered;
• injury to the belayer(s) because the climber lands on top of them.
Peer belaying Systems
5. None of the approaches given below is any better that any other. Indeed there may be benefit in mixing and matching a number of techniques, some of which are described below. Not all the systems described below are suitable for all client groups, venues or sessions. Consideration needs to be given to which is the most appropriate technique (or combination of techniques) for any given situation.
6. Common phrases and meanings in team belaying systems:
• the tail or tailer - someone who only holds the dead end of the rope;
• the bell-ringer - someone who only pulls the live end of the rope down towards the belay device;
• device operator - someone who only operates the belay device.
7. Tailing - One person belays in a conventional manner, using either a friction device or an Italian Hitch but the dead end of the rope is held by one or more other people.