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Battling The Bureaucrats

Author: Ralph (RR3rd) Jameson
Date: February 10, 2012
I got a call recently from a biology professor friend of mine who teaches at a large university who had some questions in reference to tree climbing and the training that is being offered. He has a student interested in doing a research project involving climbing into the canopy. The climbing and the research were to be done on some property owned by the university in a rural location.

The student has taken the Basic Tree Climbing Course and has purchased the gear necessary to climb the way she was taught, basic traditional DRT.

The university, though, has refused to give her permission to climb because, according to their campus safety people, her climbing method and her gear do not meet protocols set forth by the university. While discussing her project proposal, university officials frequently made mention of OSHA, ANSI, and even ACCT. These are, respectively, the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, the American National Standards Institute, and the Association for Challenge Course technology. The university is affiliated in one way or another with each of these, along with others. She was also told that the university's legal department had advised against granting her permission to climb, since her way of climbing appeared to be out of line with that recommended by at least one of the aforementioned bureaucracies.

I have since met the young lady, climbed with her, and am convinced that she is a well-trained, responsible, and safe climber.

The problem, I think, is that the training that she received, to become a recreational climber, simply did not fit the university's view of climbing as a professional activity. Her training, her gear, her climbing ability did not make a "good fit" with officials who wished to apply what I will call "industry standards" to what she was proposing to do.

She was in the position of having to argue with bureaucratic culture in what was a "no win" situation for her.

I know of another situation in which a climber, in an attempt to gain permission to climb, was required to submit a very detailed paper stating what the climber wished to do. This paper required the climber, in addition to explaining the climb, to include a very detailed list of every potential hazard and the means by which each hazard was to be dealt with. There had to be spec sheets from the manufacturers of the gear being used giving details of the safety features built into their gear. A copy of the climber's insurance policy had to be included and had to comply with a certain required amount of insurance. Two different waivers were necessary. Then, after all of that, permission was denied.

My question, then, is: "Does the training offered for recreational climbers need to be upgraded to equal the training necessary to be an 'industry accepted' climber? Should such training include suggesting to students that they buy gear that will comply with 'industry' rather than 'recreational' standards? And should recreational climbers be subjected to those 'regulations' dictated or proposed or suggested by groups such as OSHA, ANSI, or ACCT?

This is not an argument for, or against, the issue of standards. We have beaten that poor horse to death several times over. This is merely an article asking whether recreational climbing should re-organize its thinking in order to help climbers gain permissions to climb in places that are currently considered 'off limits', and subject to bureaucratic sanctions.

Would the student mentioned above have been able to do her project as proposed had she been trained differently? Would the other climber mentioned above have an easier time gaining the necessary permission that was being sought?

Or, is this a no win situation that cannot be solved?

I am happy to report that the student wishing to do the biology project, a study of leaf size and structure at different heights in the canopy, has done her project successfully. I went along and climbed with her in several places other than the university property, thus avoiding further argument with university bureaucrats.

The thing that I am most bothered by is the fact that those who are using the standards advocated by these bureaucratic agencies are the ones who, statistically, have the most accidents, while those of us climbing recreationally seem to have the better- much better, I might add!- safety record. This argument goes absolutely nowhere in any discussion with the bureaucratically minded people encountered while seeking permissions to climb.

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