Risk assessment for beginner climbers

Risk assessment for beginner climbers

Risk assessment is largely unwritten in climbing but it does underpin the basic issue of safety. Alun Richardson spells out what you need to know.

The number of climbers killed or injured rock climbing is thankfully small. This is probably because the dangers are 'in your face' and stop many people putting themselves unnecessarily at risk. However, you will only be truly safe when you understand the hazards and have the techniques and skills to avoid them, or minimise the risk of being hurt by them. Being safe is not a series of rules and regulations but an awareness of danger. A mountain guide, instructor or experienced climber can put you on the road to good judgement, but ultimately safety will only come from you facing up to the reality that climbing can be dangerous.


The number of climbers killed or injured rock climbing is thankfully small

It is worth remembering that a situation that is safe for an experienced climber may be quite dangerous for a beginner, so be careful if you're thinking about copying what other climbers do. Each of us has our own perception of what is acceptable risk and this will change as we gain more experience. This is because perceptions of risk differ; one person may perceive abseiling as dangerous and a steep grass slope safe, whereas from an experienced climber's point of view the opposite may well be true.

The hazards  

The hazards of climbing are many and varied.
Where you climb: loose rock, other climbers, steep drops, or the sea.
Equipment you use: ropes, harnesses, protection, etc.
The cations of you and your climbing partners.

Minimising the risk
  • Take care not to knock rocks onto others
  • Do not stand under other climbers or abseilers.
  • Treat steep drops with respect, anyone can trip over.
  • Make sure you understand guidebook descriptions.
  • Understand how your equipment works and treat it as if your life depends on it. It does.
  • Practice choosing the appropriate gear and placing it in the rock quickly at ground level to discover what works and what does not. Be creative, tug the gear to get an idea of its holding power but beware that a tug does not recreate the forces generated in a fall.
  • Develop pride in your rope techniques.
  • 'Tying in' is a serious business. Get into the habit of checking each other before climbing,
  • When belaying do not rummage in your rucksack, have a smoke, or read the newspaper. Stay focused on the leader, to pre-empt their movements and attempts to clip protection.
  • Position yourself so the rope runs cleanly and does not wrap around the leader's legs. Consider the direction that a leader fall might pull you. Position yourself close to the cliff to keep the runners in place and to ensure that a fall will not pull you into the cliff face. When the route is running straight up a steep cliff, stand up to belay because it is a more comfortable position to absorb the forces created by a fall.
  • Understand fall factors.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Carry a simple first aid kit.
  • Remove jewellery. It'll only get in the way, get damaged or cause damage to you.
  • Learn simple rescue techniques to get your partner out of difficulty.
  • Protect yourself with a prusik when abseiling.
  • Warm up and stretch prior to climbing in order to minimise injury.
  • Do not think it cannot happen to you.
  • Treat climbing walls with the same respect as outdoor crags.

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