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High Ropes Course Activities to Resume in Singapore after Two-Year Break

Height-based outdoor adventure learning activities for Singaporean schools are scheduled to resume in February 2023. This follows a two-year period where the government prohibited height-related activities like high ropes courses, following the death of a 15-year old school pupil on a ropes course in February 2021.


The Ministry of Education has put into place three new safety measures as a condition of resuming height-based activities:


1. Designated leaders at each public school. All public schools have a trained staff person designated as being in charge of outdoor adventure learning, and responsible for overseeing safety and quality of outdoor adventure activities for the school’s learners.


2. Phased resumption. To ease the transition back to providing height-based activities, challenge course activities such as ziplines, and high ropes courses requiring belaying, are only allowed to operate at half capacity from February 1 to March 31, 2023.


However, abseiling (rappelling) and climbing activities can resume at full capacity, since operators and ground staff continued providing these activities for the public while challenge course operations for schools were shut down over the last two years.


3. Operator accreditation. Providers of height-based activities used by public schools must ensure their facilities are “accredited regularly” by a regional outdoor adventure learning professional body or a national sports association. Schools can only use accredited facilities run by qualified instructors.


MOE published detailed specifications for accreditation and qualification requirements for height-based activities.


For example, operators of climbing and abseiling walls must be accredited annually by the Singapore Sport Climbing & Mountaineering Federation.


Challenge course operators must every three years obtain Operation Accreditation from the Association for Challenge Course Technology.


Instructors at privately-run challenge courses must be appropriately qualified; acceptable qualifications are European Ropes Course Association (ERCA) Instructor and ERCA Rescuer qualifications, and ACCT Level 1 & 2 certification.



On February 4, 2021, a student lost his footing while on a ropes course in Singapore, and was suspended by his harness in mid-air for a time. By the time he was lowered to the ground and given first aid, he had died.


This led to the national halt to all high ropes course and other height-based outdoor adventure education activities. The prohibition was established with no pre-determined end date.



Groups Work to Enhance Outdoor Education Safety & Quality in Singapore


Also as a result of the incident, an Outdoor Adventure Education Council, composed of members of government, Outward Bound Singapore, and private outdoor education providers, was created. The Council is developing national standards for safety and quality of outdoor adventure education programmes across the country. The Council reviewed the three new safety measures and supports the resumption of height-based activities.


The Ministry of Education values outdoor adventure education for its ability to foster self-confidence, teamwork, and resilience in youth, and to strengthen trust and relationships with peers and teachers. MOE also recognizes that outdoor skills have decreased during the prohibition on height-based elements, as well as due to COVID-19 restrictions. MOE has been organizing refresher sessions and recertification courses to address this. The Ministry will also lead skills verifications sessions in early 2023 to help ensure that instructors are well-prepared to resume leading height-based activities.


The Outdoor Learning & Adventure Education (OLAE) Association, an industry body representing private providers of outdoor education programmes, enthusiastically welcomed the resumption of height-based outdoor adventure activities. OLAE will work with providers to ensure that the enhanced safety measures are in place.


OLAE that they will continue to support the work of the Outdoor Adventure Education Council, on which several OLAE members sit, “to develop our future-ready youth into enterprising, tolerant and resilient adults.”


Delane Lim, co-lead for the Standards and Certification Sub-Committee of the Outdoor Adventure Education Council, said in a recent interview with Channel News Asia that a key intention of MOE’s new rules is “to look at a more systemic level of review and enhancement of outdoor adventure learning in Singapore.” In addition his leadership role with the Council, Delane is the Secretary-General of OLAE, and a graduate of the Risk Management for Outdoor Programs training by Viristar, which emphasizes systems thinking in risk management.


News articles on the resumption in multi-cultural Singapore, in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English



Challenge Course Standards Also Evolving Globally


The enhancements to safety management of height-related adventures in Singapore come at the same time that the Association for Challenge Course Technology announced a proposed revision of the standards for challenge courses, zip lines and canopy tours published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), known as the ANSI/ACCT 03-2019 standard.


Improved standards have the potential to reduce the likelihood of serious safety incidents. A public comment period is open through January 9, 2023 on the proposed revisions.


The new standards will apply to installations used for experiential education, team development, recreation, or therapy. They will apply to structures such as traditional challenge courses/ropes courses with facilitator-led activities, operations with guided activities such as canopy and zipline tours, and self-guided setups such as aerial adventure parks.


The proposed revisions are described in a 70-page document covering:


  • Design, performance and inspection standards

  • Inspection requirements

  • Site considerations

  • Element support structures

  • Operating systems

  • Life safety systems

  • Element support systems

  • Platforms

  • Zip line brake systems

  • Equipment

  • Operation standards

  • Operations management

  • Staff competencies

  • Training standards


Comments on the proposed revisions can be submitted here.

  

The standards published by ANSI are voluntary standards for the USA context, but are globally applicable, and have become a world-wide de facto standard for challenge course installations. They are the latest version of standards first published by the Association for Challenge Course Technology in 1994, one year after the Association was founded.


In 2007, ACCT published certification standards for practitioners, to complement the original standards, which focused on engineering specifications for installations.


Other industry associations in the USA and around the world have also developed standards for the challenge course, zipline, canopy tour, and aerial adventure park sectors. The Professional Ropes Course Association, the Alliance Collaborative, and the African Ropes Course Association, among others, also offer guidance to industry professionals.


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