University of Iowa to Reopen Climbing Wall After Student Fall

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa's climbing wall will reopen next week after being closed since Nov. 8 when a student fell 30 feet, but risk management officials want stricter policies in place before anyone else straps on a harness.

According to a document outlining policy and procedure recommendations that was made public Friday, all recommendations "must be incorporated into the (Campus Recreation and Wellness Center) policies and procedures" before the wall is reopened.

"Also, prior to opening the wall, all staff and climbers must be trained, tested and approved according to the standards specified in this document," according to risk management officials.

UI officials said many of the department's policy and procedure recommendations already are in place, although some of the suggestions are new. New recommendations include a requirement that climbers wanting to use the bouldering wall have a separate orientation and waiver.

All climbing and boulder wall users will be retested before they are allowed to use either wall after it's reopened on Tuesday – the same day students are scheduled to start the spring semester. And the bouldering wall from now on only will be open when the climbing wall is staffed.

The UI and two climbing wall firms investigated the incident and reviewed the wall to determine why 21-year-old Spencer Bean fell the evening of Nov. 8, sending him to the hospital with a spinal cord injury, and to make sure the wall was safe to reopen.

The UI investigation found no indications that the wall or its components contributed to the fall, and it reported the cause of the accident could not be definitively determined. The climbing wall firms reported that the wall is in good condition and ready for use, according to a UI news release.

Bean, and the person who was belaying him, were not using any other UI equipment when the fall occurred, according to the UI report.

The UI student, who also was a recreation services staff member assigned to work the climbing wall, was not working at the time of his fall. He landed on his feet, according to UI police, and a blog cataloguing his fall and recovery states he crushed two vertebrae and fractured a cervical vertebrae. He underwent eight hours of surgery during which doctors had to collapse his left lung, according to the blog, and he's now recovering in Illinois.

Other policy and procedure recommendations developed by the UI's Department of Risk Management for the bouldering and climbing walls in response to the fall include new or adjusted camera equipment to "fully and clearly monitor the entire climbing wall area."

Officials also recommend management take a closer look at what non-UI equipment will be allowed for use on the climbing wall. If non-UI equipment is allowed, it should be communicated that the users are solely responsible for the devices.

In addition to being tested or retested before using the wall when it reopens, all users will be required to sign a new waiver and code of conduct statement, according to UI Recreational Services.

"For the first few weeks, there will be additional staff on hand to facilitate the retesting," according to the department.

The policy and procedure recommendations from the Risk Management department include reminders about how staff and climbers should behave in the area of the walls.

"Lax belay techniques should not be allowed, such as leaning on the glass wall, sitting while belaying, eating while belaying, participating in overly distracting conversations that affect concentration, using a cell phone for texting, talking or other technology activity," according to the recommendations report.

The report also supports a ban of cell phones, computers or other entertainment devices in the wall area and the creation of a climbing wall website where prospective users can find details about climbing and bouldering wall rules, waivers and forms.
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