You tried zip lining once years ago and really enjoyed it, so you thought it’d be the perfect activity for your upcoming family vacation. Much to your surprise, you got pushback from the rest of your family, who told you that ziplining is not safe. Is that really true?
Ziplining injuries are on the rise as the sport has become more popular in the United States, with 3,600 injuries reported between 1997 and 2012. However, it’s important to differentiate from commercial zip lining companies with more stringent standards versus amateur zip-lining courses, the latter of which are usually far more dangerous.
In today’s article, we’ll talk at length about the safety of zip lining, including statistics that will help you make up your mind. We’ll even discuss whether zip lining companies are under federal regulation, how often zip line inspections occur, and more, so make sure you keep reading!
Is Zip Lining Federally Regulated?
Federal regulation is akin to law and can inform agencies on how certain laws should be enforced. According to Robson Forensic, a forensics resource, as of 2020, there may be as many as 400 commercial zip lining companies throughout the United States. None are federally regulated, says Robson Forensic.
Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t zip lining standards in place, as there certainly are. In the US, the two organizations that oversee these standards are ASTM International and the American National Standards Institute or ANSI. In other words, these are no small organizations.
European Standards or EN as well as the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association and the Association for Challenge Course Technology or ACCT also play a role in setting zip-lining standards.
The standards pertain to the use of zip lines as well as their training, operation, inspection, performance, and design. Yet without federal regulations, the rules might not be stringent enough to always be upheld. In lieu of federal regulations, in some states, (such as in Pennsylvania and Florida), a state’s Department of Agriculture might oversee zip lining activities. If not them, then it’d be the Labor Department.
How Often Are Zip Lines Inspected?
Do commercial zip lines undergo regular inspection? The answer is yes, or at least, it should be. At least every day, the zip line operators are supposed to check all cables that riders use for zip lining. If you read our other posts on zip lining on this blog, then you’d recall that zip lines cables are made of galvanized wire.
The standard 7×19 galvanized wire kind of looks like a Twizzlers Pull n’ Peel with at least seven cables that are each comprised of smaller wires. It’s these wires that will begin fraying first, which is why daily inspections are crucial.
Hubbard Merrell Engineering has a great outline of all states in the US and their zip line inspection criteria. Although a lot of states didn’t make their criteria available, that doesn’t mean they don’t have inspection rules, just that we don’t know what they are. Here is a list of the criteria that were made publicly available.
- Alaska: Alaska’s state department will take care of inspection or a National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO) Level II Inspector will.
- Arkansas: All zip line inspectors in Arkansas undergo training and certification through NAARSO.
- California: In California, a Qualified Safety Inspector or QSI must inspect the zip line and then send a Certificate of Compliance letter.
- Colorado: Any third-party zip line inspectors have to register with the state. Only professional engineers (“in a related discipline”), AACT Qualified Inspectors, Amusement Industry Manufacturers and Suppliers International or AIMS Level 1, or NAARSO Level 2 inspectors are qualified.
- Connecticut: Connecticut allows engineers or third-party inspectors to do an initial inspection of the zip line, then a state representative will follow up with their own inspection.
- Delaware: In Delaware, you must be part of an Electrical Inspection Agency that was certified through the Delaware Board of Electrical Engineers or have an Amusement Rides Safety Inspection Certificate to inspect a zip line course.
- Florida: Permanent zip lining courses must be inspected twice per year in Florida. The third-party inspector must submit an Affidavit of Compliance and Nondestructive Testing Form. Engineers are one such example of eligible third-party inspectors. The state will carry out its own inspection of the zip line course.
- Illinois: A state inspector in Illinois must check the zip line course before it can open to the public. The inspector, often an engineer, will then produce a letter to the state inspector.
- Iowa: Iowa state inspectors must check over the zip line and its equipment.
- Kentucky: All zip line inspectors in Kentucky have to follow the rules of inspection as outlined by the Kentucky Inspection Report.
- Maine: In Maine, the fire marshal does zip line inspections.
- Maryland: Maryland has a Safety Inspection Division that will check the zip line courses in the state.
- Massachusetts: Those who have a Massachusetts Certificate of Competency are considered a Massachusetts Certified Inspector and they can oversee zip-lining inspections.
- Michigan: Michigan State Inspectors will go out and check a zip lining course if asked to by the Carnival/Amusement Safety Program office.
- Minnesota: A certified inspector in Minnesota is either an independent inspection service or part of a ride insurance company. They’d need to submit an Affidavit of Amusement Ride Inspection.
- Missouri: AIMS and/or NAARSO certify all inspections at a level one certification or up. Further inspection may also occur from within state organizations.
- New Hampshire: A commissioner or agent must inspect the zip line before the public can use it.
- New Jersey: In New Jersey, you’re considered a Recognized Certified Maintenance Technician or RCMT if you have an AIMS level-one certification or up, a NAARSO level-one certification or up, or if you’re a qualified inspector to review category 2 ride status.
- New York: New York’s Department of Labor will inspect a zip line ride once it passes permits and before the ride opens to the public. Then inspections will occur at least annually from there on out. The state Department of Health will come by once per year as well to inspect the zip line course.
- Ohio: The only inspectors that can review zip lines in Ohio are authorized through the Department of Agriculture. The inspection shall pass regulations as set by the Ohio Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Council.
- Pennsylvania: In Pennsylvania, their zip line inspections can only be performed by certified inspectors through NAARSO or AACT.
- Texas: All zip line inspectors in Texas are either from authorized insurance companies or NAARSO.
- West Virginia: The West Virginia Division of Labor oversees zip line inspections in this state. The inspections follow ACCT regulations as established in the ACCT Challenge Course and Canopy/Zip Line Tours Standards, Seventh Edition.
Zip Lining Safety Statistics Through the Years
Since zip lining is not federally regulated, there is no one governmental body that tracks zip-lining injury and death data. That means it’s impossible to glean this resource from one source. What we can do is put together the data that’s readily available across various reports and news articles, creating a type of patchwork.
For example, CBS News, in a 2015 article, states that between 1997 and 2012, up to 3,600 people had zip-lining injuries that required medical attention. These injuries included everything from sprains to cuts and broken bones. That’s cumulatively tallied from 1997 to 2012 by the way, not that 3,600 zip-lining injuries occurred in 2012 alone.
Their data comes from an American Journal of Emergency Medicinereport. CBS says that zip-lining deaths were not counted in the study.
However, in another CBS News article that was also published in 2015, the news agency stated that six US zip-lining deaths had occurred that year. However, that article was published in late August, which meant that the year 2015 still had four and a half more months to go. Thus, the death toll could be even higher.
A Delaware Online article from 2016 fills in a few of the gaps, as this article outlines the nature and number of some zip-lining deaths throughout the US between 2011 and 2016. However, only five deaths are described, and we know for a fact that more people died zip lining in that period based on the CBS News info.
We’ll go back to the Robson Forensic report, which is probably the most comprehensive resource available on zip lining incidents and deaths. Their report mentions that from 2006 to 2016, there were 16 zip-lining deaths. Up to 77 percent of these fatalities were attributed to falls. The rest were due to entanglements, collisions, and material failures.
Now, 36,000 injuries up to 2012 might sound like a lot, but remember that it’s a 15-year span we’re talking about here. Out of a million people, the injury rate is 11.64, which is low. That rate isn’t quite as low as riding an amusement park attraction, but it’s still low. These injuries were primarily broken bones at 46 percent followed by bruises at 15.2 percent, sprains and strains at 15.1 percent, then closed head injuries and/or concussions at 7 percent.
Not all zip lining injuries necessarily require a trip to the hospital. Robson Forensic quotes data from Ohio State University that found that only 12 percent of those injured on a zip line needed to be admitted to a hospital.
So, Is Zip Lining Dangerous?
What does all this information tell us when you put it together? Ziplining is not without its injuries and even fatalities. Since it’s an airborne sport where you’re at least 30 feet in the air, that’s to be expected to a degree.
The above stats do not cover amateur zip-lining courses, of which their safety is completely negligible. Even among commercial zip lining companies, their safety depends on the company. We outlined earlier the various inspection criteria that some states utilize, which should put your mind at ease.
If you have questions, thoughts, or concerns about going zip-lining, we recommend calling or visiting your zip lining company. Sometimes seeing the course and how it’s maintained can put your mind at ease. Feel free to ask questions like how often the zip lines are inspected or what kind of safety equipment the company uses.
You can also quiz them about their weight limits, since many zip lining companies do have such limits for your safety. If you get a bad feeling about zip lining there, then you’re probably better off continuing your search.
Zip-lining safety statistics are hard to come by since the sport is not federally regulated, but we know that from 1997 to 2012, at least 3,600 injuries occurred throughout the US. How many of those incidents were fatal is less clear, but falls remain the primary cause of death when zip lining.
It’s good to have the facts, and now that you do, you can make an educated decision about whether zip lining is right for you and your family.
Ziplining can be a fun activity catered to people of different experience levels. You can do a moderately short, slow zip line if you’re not chasing after thrills or you can zipline 60 or more feet off the ground. No matter your ziplining height or speed, you wonder whether the line is likely to break. Has it ever happened?
We’ve all heard it at least once: the tales of someone who goes ziplining and then says it was boring. You were thinking of planning a zipline ride soon, but you can’t help but wonder, could it be boring or is zip lining actually fun?