Zooming in on Zip Lines

“They are spreading like fast-food hamburger joints.” That’s what Mike Teske told the Los Angeles Times, and he wasn’t talking about nail salons. Teske is the technical director for a zip line company, and he also heads a panel drafting national safety standards for zip lines. Zip lines are the latest commercial adventure craze, offering thrills to at least 18 million people each year, according to the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT).

In addition to thrills, however, zip lines also lead to spills and serious personal injuries – especially makeshift lines which are not safely designed or maintained. A few years ago, 16-year-old David Coleman and his friends were riding a makeshift zip line between trees over the Saluda River. David’s hand got caught in the wire and was severed from his arm. After a 26-hour surgery at Duke University Hospital, the hand was reattached and the young man began a long rehabilitation. As bad as that accident was, it could have been worse: In recent years, deaths have occurred from homemade zip lines in Connecticut, Idaho, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee.

The dangers presented by zip line rides are the reason the ACCT and ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) are working on national safety standards for commercial zip lines. Only a few states have adopted regulations for zip line rides (Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia), so, as with many things, it’s “buyer beware.”

Is a zip line ride on your bucket list? Are you planning to include an aerial adventure in your summer vacation plans, maybe on one of the lines in Myrtle Beach or crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina? Spend a little time inquiring about the company’s safety and inspection policies.

The Redwoods Group Foundation provides risk analysis and insurance for camps, community centers and playgrounds. They encourage scrutiny of zip lines from the standpoint of design, installation, maintenance and supervision.

Design and installation: Are the supports set in concrete or adequately braced? Is the cable of sufficient strength for the potential load? The low point of the cable arc should be low enough to prevent a rider from smashing into the post at the end of the line. Rollers should have guards to prevent injury to hands. The starting platform should not be dangerously high or unprotected and customers should be tethered while standing on the platform.

Maintenance: Are regular inspections conducted and documented? Daily inspections should be carried out on all starting platforms, carriage assemblies, riding handles or seats and safety harnesses. Bolts and clamps should be tightened to manufacturer specifications. Cable tension should be adjusted for both performance and safety. Padding on harnesses and braking systems should not be worn. One inspection company says cables should be replaced every three years. Before you dangle from a cable spanning a gorge, ask how old it is.

Supervision: Zip line riders should be monitored at all times by trained professionals and should be given a safety course before they take off. Employees should be trained in CPR and first aid and be present at both the beginning and the end of the course. Full body harness and helmets are recommended but are not always required. The harness should be attached to the cable at two independent points in case one fails. Underage or undersized riders should not be allowed.

Zip Lining Accidents

Many zip line injuries are severe and falls from a height due to an equipment malfunction are likely to be fatal. The most common injury suffered by aerial adventurers is bone fractures, often caused not by plunging from the middle of the span but by falling from the platform or crashing into the termination point.

The physical, emotional and financial trauma of a zip line accident is not the kind of challenge you want to undertake this summer. If you or your loved one suffers an injury due to a negligently designed or maintained zip line attraction, call the Louthian Law Firm at 888-440-3211. When something goes wrong, we’ll do everything in our power to make it right again.