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Selecting A Challenge Course Vendor

1. STANDARDSDSC_0322

Unlike an electrician for instance, there are no clear licensing or accreditation programs for challenge course vendors in Australia so these questions are intended to provide some guidance when you’re selecting one.Also there are no specific, comprehensive how-to-build manuals about challenge course construction. There are several Australian Standards, which address various aspects (e.g. AS 2316.1-2009 ‘Artificial climbing structures and challenge courses – Fixed and mobile artificial climbing and abseiling walls’), internationally developed standards (see below) and some state requirements. Most require skilled interpretation.Towers and mobile activities may require additional specialist knowledge and skills as well as permits and design computations.

Useful International Bodies

  • Association for Challenge Course Technology
  • Professional Ropes Course Association – PRCA
  • European Ropes Course Association
  • ACCTA – Association of Challenge Course Technology Australia – this body, referred to in some documents, no longer exists.

Note:  As of January 2016, the development of the Australian Standards- ‘Artificial climbing structures and challenge courses—Flying foxes and challenge ropes courses’ is underway. For more information on these standards, please contact the Australian Camps Association on 03 9365 7100.

ADVENTURE ACTIVITY STANDARDS (AAS) (VIC)

  • There’s also state based Adventure Activity Standards but these are about conducting the activity rather than the construction of the elements.
    Note: As at January 2016 National Adventure Activity Standards are currently being developed

Questions To Ask A Challenge Course Vendor

2. INSURANCE

Do you have insurance? What type? What amount?

You might expect or require them to have Public & Products Liability Insurance, Professional Indemnity, Workers Compensation (if applicable). They may also have a Contracts Works policy. The contract works will cover the loss, destruction of or damage to contract works and all materials ascribed to the contract whilst on site until completion of the course. If they import or manufacture items (as distinct from buying them from a local manufacturer or importer), you might expect them to have Product Liability Insurance.

Workers compensation requirements are complex and vary from state to state as well as depending on whether the CRC vendor has ‘staff’ or ‘contractors’.

If in doubt about what insurance CRC vendors should have, check with your own insurance company or broker.

Camps doing their own thing

Camps may have Products Liability but only in so far as related to the products they have disclosed to their broker within their business description. Anyone, importing or manufacturing a product needs to advise their broker / insurer so it can be accepted as part of their operation. Upon an insurer accepting this, cover does extend and typically forms part of their business activities described in the liability schedule. Obviously, this cover is subject to the normal policy terms and conditions.

Camps should also be cautious if they are building items such as ropes courses, flying foxes or additional adventure activities elements. You should advise your insurer as you are deemed to be making a product and would not be considered normal parts of operating a camp. These are specialist activities in addition to normal camp management activities – if you are in doubt then you should contact your broker.

3. VENDOR EXPERIENCE

How many years experience have you had in building challenge courses? Was that experience as a builder, supervising other builders? Was that experience working to Australian requirements?

You might expect or require:

  • Evidence that the vendor has built other rope courses in a lead role (i.e. managing the design as well as the actual construction).
  • Evidence that the vendor can manage other contractors (pole installation companies for instance) as well as other staff or contractors they may employ.

Be as specific as possible about your needs and clarify any jargon terms. You wouldn’t assume that because someone works with timber building houses that they could necessarily build a piece of fine furniture. So people who claim experience with rigging and similar work should be asked about their specific knowledge and experience with this type of work in trees or poles, building activities to be used by children and adults, usually in an outdoor setting.

If your course includes a tower or a mobile climbing wall further questions may be required about the vendor’s experience. Constructing a flying fox is not the same as building a tower.

4. STANDARDS

When building challenge courses and initiative activities, what guidelines or standards do you use?

You might expect or require:

  • Evidence that the vendor is familiar with current Australian standards, any local state requirements and international standards
  • Information about how the vendor keeps up to date with industry issues and trends.

5. REFEREES

Can you provide contact details of three recent customers, in my area, who will provide a reference for similar type and scale of work?

You might expect or require:

  • People you can call or visit and get their opinion of the vendor, the extent of work done, satisfaction with training, followup and maintenance.

6. TRAINING

When you complete the building what training and information do you offer me/my staff for the safe operation of the activities? What format will this be in?

What is the duration of training? How many may attend?

Importantly many recent injuries on challenge courses have stemmed from the conduct of the activity, rather than the construction. Investigate this yourself by visiting the state WorkSafe websites and searching for ‘flying fox’ or ‘ropes course’ or ‘challenge course’.

You might expect or require:

  • Onsite detailed explanation of the operation of each element separately

 

  • Onsite training of you and your staff. Consider training several staff to provide flexibility in use.
  • Written procedures for the conduct of each element (including any variations on use, participant requirements such as size, age, weight, numbers).
  • There might be written notes, pictures or even videos. If it’s not written or printed, how will you remember in a month’s time?

There are Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) for the general conduct of Challenge Ropes Courses. In addition to the AAS you should have specific information and training about the conduct of each element of activity that forms part of the course.

7. MAINTENANCE

What information will you provide to help me do maintenance and safety checks? What format will it be in?

You might expect or require:

  • Maintenance schedule of periodic checking – what do you as the operator need to check before or after each use, on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis?
  • Onsite detailed explanation of the above
  • Written checklist describing the procedures, frequency and actions if maintenance is required
  • What you can do yourself and what needs external assistance.
  • It might be written notes, pictures or even videos. If it’s not written or printed, how will you remember in a month’s time?

8. INSPECTIONS

How often do you provide inspections? What is the cost of the inspection? What sort of report do you provide for an inspection? Where are you based? How often do you come to my area?

You might expect or require:

  • An annual inspection for a base fee plus cost of additional work
  • The annual inspection is done as part of a visit to the area (particularly if the vendor is from interstate or you’re in a remote area.
  • A detailed written report that indicates work required and categorised so you can decide when to do it. Some components might need replacement immediately, others to be monitored and replaced at some future time.

9. INSPECTION REPORT FORMATS

The inspection report will tell me

  • By name, which elements have been inspected (not ‘low ropes course’ but each element by name)
  • The rating for the safety and suitability of each element according to a scale which forms part of the inspection report. For example
    • Rating 1 – the element is safe and suitable for use and meets the requirements of the relevant ACCT and Australian Standards.
    • Rating 2 – the element is safe and suitable for use but has minor issues that need to be addressed. The issues are clearly identified with reference to the relevant ACCT and Australian Standards, appropriate remedial action is stated with a timeline for completion.
    • Rating 3 – the element is NOT safe or suitable for use and should not be used until issues are addressed. The issues are clearly identified with reference to the relevant ACCT and Australian Standards and remedial action is identified.
    • Rating 4 – the element is NOT safe or suitable for use and is unable to be satisfactorily repaired.

10. ACCREDITATION

Is the constructor familiar with the requirements of the accreditation program that I use? What will the constructor do to help me attain/keep my accredited status?

You might expect or require:

  • Written status reports for each element including recommendations for action with a timeline
  • Written procedures for the safe conduct of each element
  • Written maintenance checklist and procedures for the safe operation of each element
  • Maintenance check on the frequency required by the accreditation program

11. CONTRACT AND TERMS

Will there be a contract setting out timelines, terms, deposits and payments?

You might expect or require:

  • A written contract or letter of agreement setting out
  • The full details of the work (number of elements, brief description of each element, where it is to be constructed. This might include sketch plans, pictures, etc.
  • Timelines for work
  • Amount of deposit (if any), amount of other payments (staged or at completion)
  • Types of insurances held
  • Details of other requirements to be provided by you (access to site, accommodation, number of your staff available if required, etc.)
  • Information about what permits are needed (if any) and who will obtain them.

12. STATEMENT

Will you provide the answer to these questions in writing, on letterhead and signed as a statement?

As Hollywood producer, Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said “An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.

13. WHAT ELSE IS NEEDED BEFORE YOU SELECT A VENDOR?

Make sure you talk to more than one vendor and make sure you talk to other operators about the experiences – good and bad!
Devise some questions of your own to suit your circumstances.