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High Ropes Operating Manual

Guidance for developing an operating manual for high ropes activities


(Published January 2019)


High ropes activities are defined within POR 9.12.5

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) are written documents that detail everything about how a particular repetitive activity must be run, including instructions on use, who can run it etc. 

Your Operating Manual is your overall governance pack that details the SOP’s, reviews and revisions, updates, training and assessment regimes etc.

Part 1 – Planning

  • Common themes with other activities when planning

When planning a high ropes activity, whether permanent or temporary, correct planning is essential and must start by referencing the Scouts rules and factsheets, found in the A-Z of activities.

  • Supporting documents

Any operating manual must include referenced documents, these will normally include (but are not limited to):

  • Manufacturer’s instructions
  • Structural details and inspection regimes
  • Equipment and other inspection regimes
  • Risk assessments
  • Authorised users/trainers/inspectors

Part 2 – Constructing an operating manual

The operating manual must be an accessible document that anyone with suitable skills and experience can pick up and understand.  You should think about the format and structure that will best help users of the manual to get all the information they need to run the activity safely. 

Major considerations

Correctly planning and organising your activity area will help tremendously in reducing risk and making sessions more efficient.

Common factors to consider include:

  • Participant and instructor journeys
  • Defined spaces, i.e. holding areas, activity area, belaying areas, fall zones
  • Interaction with structures and moving people or objects
  • Flat areas (or deliberately angled to direct falling objects)
  • Ease of pre session and periodic inspections

The operating manual must detail every item of equipment involved in the delivery of the activity, instructions on its intended use, records of use, identifying pictures and common issues advice.  It must also detail what happens to equipment in the event of failure during use or discovery of a fault through routine inspection.  This will often be called a ‘quarantine’ process and will detail such things as; marking the item to avoid accidental reuse, and investigation by a competent person to review if equipment is being misused. 

Structures must be constructed, maintained and inspected using industry best practice. Put in place a set of rules that detail type, frequency and thoroughness of inspections, as well as who should do them.  For instance, it may detail that any part of the structure that is above head height is inspected at defined time periods by those qualified to work at height only, whereas all bolts and fixings at head height and below should be inspected each time the wall is used by the trained instructor.

It must state who is qualified to run the activity, as well as who can train them, their minimum qualification held and how often they must inspect the activity and review every aspect. If in-house training is used then renewal periods must be stated. This will normally be fully detailed in your Operating Manual but who can run what must be explicitly stated in your operating manual.

The operating manual must list the specific personal equipment used for the activity and how this is used, stored and maintained. This must detail any variants for different equipment held within the location, for example there may be two designs of harness, one for adults and one for young people, the operating manual must clearly explain the different equipment and how it is to be used. Staff must be trained on their correct use and inspection methods and regime. At all times you must ensure that all equipment is only used in accordance with manufacturers recommendations, and each use recorded.

The operating manual must detail exactly who is authorised to participate, lead, train others, watch and inspect the activity.  This should include (but is not limited to):

  • Pre-requisite memberships (TSA etc.)
  • Qualifications or in house training
  • Age groups
  • Vetting checks

The operating manual must include details on how many participants the activity can host at any one time, and how many instructors/ other supervisors need to be present for the activity to safely commence. 

A major consideration when writing the operating manual is who will be participating in the activity, and any specific risks that they may present, as well as common risks amongst all demographics.  Safety briefings should be constructed and delivered in a way that all participants can understand. 

Perhaps the biggest part of the operating manual will be the specific processes that instructors must follow in order to ensure safe operation of the activity. This will pull together all the separate topics into a coherent narrative instruction for your operators.  For example, in your operating manual it might detail that all participants are kept out of the fall zone in a holding area, and that the instructor calls new participants forward when starting the activity.  Elsewhere in the operating manual it may define and/or detail further locations, barriers etc. to the holding area, as well as your system for calling participants.  The operating manual should include relevant diagrams to assist with understanding, for example how to use a belay device, or how and where to tie in a harness to the rope.  It is important that it gives explicit instructions and do not leave any room for misinterpretation or ambiguity to ensure safety at all times. 

Aspects of the activity that usually comprise this section include:

  • The participant’s movement through the activity and actions
  • The instructor’s actions, i.e. belaying, ability to move around the area
  • Equipment used and where
  • Avoiding hazards for all and minimising risk
  • Common misuse and how to recognise and avoid. 

Part 3 – Ongoing Review

Operating manuals are working documents, and must have defined timescales or occasions to review.  Examples of these times could be:

  • When PPE reaches the expiry date
  • When an item of equipment is deemed to be unusable and quarantined
  • When an incident or near miss occurs.

As a minimum operating manuals must be reviewed annually.