Experts say there are serious regulatory problems with climbing gyms in the UAE.
Fall climbing wall lacked proper licence
DUBAI // An indoor rock-climbing wall where a man fell and suffered serious injuries was not properly licensed for climbing.
Adventure HQ, a sports store at Times Square Centre with a nine-metre climbing wall, did not have a licence to manage an activity and play area, said Sultan Essa Al Suwaidi, the head of the safety section at the municipality's public health and safety department.
The investigation led by the municipality was continuing.
"There was no licence for the rock-climbing wall in Times Square," said Mr Al Suwaidi. "The only licence was for selling equipment.
"Our inspectors check for maintenance, who is operating, emergency plans and response, and whether or not supervisors are properly trained and certified.
"If an accident occurs we are notified by the police, then we study how and why it happened and write a report, which is handed to the police to then use in court."
But the company was responsible for which recognised training firm certified its employees, he said.
Ahmad Daood, 29, a Jordanian, fell from the wall on September 10 and broke both of his legs and an arm.
The incident was the second serious climbing accident at Dubai climbing walls this month.
Climbing and ropes experts said accidents such as those at Adventure HQ and Dorell Sports at the Dubai World Trade Centre, where Mohammed Alavian, 24, fell from a climbing wall earlier this month, highlighted serious safety and regulatory concerns.
Mr Alavian fractured his skull and broke his arm in five places.
"As much as climbing is fun it's still a dangerous activity," said James Falchetto, a Canadian rope safety expert based in the UAE.
"Knowing that, you have to make safety a priority, and that includes strict and standard rules and adequate and professional supervision."
Before a climbing wall can be opened in Dubai, a safety report for playing areas and entertainment venues must be filed with the municipality, detailing all machinery and equipment.
"In accordance with a local law passed in 2003 certain standards must be followed, from how inspections are conducted to the way products are used," Mr Al Suwaidi said.
"In terms of rock climbing, we would require images of the wall and details of who will be constructing it. After that we check the wall is safe, inspect the rope and load. Basically every single item is tested and certified."
To comply with the public safety requirements of the report, companies need to include the number of supervisors on site, possible risks, safety plans and protective equipment.
The emergency planning section should highlight how to minimise risks and outline what action should be taken if there is an accident.
In the Adventure HQ accident, Mr Daood and his friends said they had unclipped and reclipped themselves into their climbing harnesses, which is against the facility's safety policy.
Mohammed Ali, a friend of Mr Daood who was climbing with him, said the wall's supervisors were not properly monitoring them.
This week, supervisors at Adventure HQ were observed allowing climbers to use the wall without supervision.
Details on action taken by the municipality would be made clearer after the investigation was complete, which should be within a few days, Mr Al Suwaidi said.
Adventure HQ officials were not immediately available for comment.
"Most climbing accidents are a variation on pilot error," said Bill Zimmermann, the executive director of the Climbing Wall Association in the US and a climber with more than 25 years of experience.
"They've done something they shouldn't have done or they didn't do something they should have done … training is key and knowledge is key."
Robert Adie, the climbing walls officer for the British Mountaineering Council, said fewer than 1 per cent of climbs on the UK's 400-plus walls resulted in serious accidents.
Most were the fault of the belayer, the person who anchors the rope for a climber, and the second-biggest cause was improperly tied knots, Mr Adie said.
Some Dubai climbing walls, including Adventure HQ, use "auto-belay" systems, which do not require a human to anchor the climber. But experts say those have been known to fail.
At the 8.6-metre climbing wall at Mirdif City Centre, which also uses auto belays, instructors were observed this week watching climbers but no qualifications were on display.
Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment, the company that manages Mirdif City Centre's wall, declined to comment on what safety procedures were in place.
Wafi Pharaoh's Club has two full-time rock climbers and both are certified in advanced rock and mountaineer climbing by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the club's general manager Fiona Burke said.
All of the equipment, including ropes, harnesses and footholds, is checked monthly and approved by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, she said.
Zane Holt, who runs the 7.5-metre climbing wall at the Quay in the Mina A'Salam hotel, said all staff there were trained up to the standards of the Mountain Leader Training Board, an English organisation, and were taught specifically how to use the hotel's wall.
Mr Holt said training was continuous at his centre.
"My guys went though the training programme, which shows them how to monitor all ropes and equipment, and record it and make sure everything is OK," he said.
A Dubai World Trade Centre spokesman said the Dorell Sports wall was closed pending a full report, "until we are completely satisfied that the highest safety standards have been upheld".
"Dorell Sports has operated and managed their climbing wall facility since 2009 and has reported no incidents prior to the recent occurrence," the spokesman said.