The pre-season can be a busy and frantic time. Hiring great staff and completing essential course upgrades might be front of mind, but properly managing your gear ahead of the season will pay dividends throughout the year. The equipment used for your challenge course, zip line, or aerial park are critical tools that demand attentive oversight. Following these steps will help you to be organized and ahead of the game when it comes to managing equipment related risk.
Perform a Thorough Pre-Season Inspection
Don’t just rely on your annual third-party inspection to know what is happening with your equipment. It is never too early to perform a thorough in-house inspection to identify worn, aging, and damaged equipment. Many popular products used in challenge courses, on zip lines, and in aerial parks will sell out ahead of the season and you don’t want to be left having to deal with substantive equipment changes just before you open. Give yourself plenty of time to complete simple repairs like replacing broken helmet buckles and to receive cost quotes and shipping estimates for anticipated replacement equipment. Document your findings and outline any questions or concerns to share with your third-party inspector.
Check That Mandatory Recertification Cycles are Current
A lot of the technology used in the aerial adventure world requires manufacturer approved inspection, servicing, and recertification. Quite often, these items are purchased just ahead of an operating season meaning the mandatory recertification is likely to fall in that same timeframe. Service centers receive the vast majority of equipment between January and June. What might normally take one week to recertify and return can turn into four weeks if you wait until the last minute. Even if the products’ recertification is not due yet, it will benefit you to recert early to align that cycle with your operating season. Confirm recertification dates for equipment in your inventory, send it in during the off-season, and have it ready to go on day one.
Don’t Wait to Purchase Critical Gear
Take the time to review your equipment early and plan your pre-season purchases. Many equipment suppliers and manufacturers experience backorders during the pre-season, last minute rush – especially with popular industry gear. Think not just about what needs to be replaced, but also what may help you realize increased efficiencies or better accommodate your staff and participants. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and there may be better solutions for managing safety than your current systems. Reach out to suppliers to see what recommendations they may have and always seek approval from your vendor before changing critical systems. Many products can be found on sale in the off-season, so put together a plan early and look for sales and special incentives.
Add and Refresh Unique Identifiers
Unique identifiers are essential in equipment inspection, management, and care. They help staff easily identify and track equipment in inspection logs and they link to important information like serial numbers and manufacture dates. Identifiers might be labels with your own alphanumeric system, barcodes, or RFID tags. Labels may become illegible or tags may fall off, so now is a good time to refresh those. Take the time to ensure that all identifiers are clear, secure, and legible. Label and record new gear purchases that will be in rotation for the upcoming season and make sure your staff have been properly trained in managing equipment based on your identifying system.
Create a Quarantine Process
Do you have a process for isolating equipment that does not pass inspection? Creating a quarantine process for your critical equipment should be a key part of your risk management plan. We recommend the use of colored tags that are easily visible and can be directly attached to the piece of equipment. Clearly label a quarantine bin where any equipment failing inspection can be easily stored. Make sure there is a documentation system that identifies why the item was removed, what (if any) remedial action occurred, and the inspection and approval of any item being returned to circulation. Finally, make sure your staff knows this system and remain diligent in its implementation. Any item that raises questions or requires an extra set of eyes should be quarantined for further review.
Establish a Clear Management System
Proper equipment management requires a proper management system. Equipment documentation is one of the first things you will be asked for following a serious incident. Make sure that you can quickly and efficiently organize detailed information about the inspection and maintenance history of each piece of equipment you use. Have a process for gear inventory, inspection, and care that is clear to your staff and consistently implemented. Confirm that all of your gear is logged, that the data is accurate and up-to-date, and that everything is well organized. This is the critical piece from which all else follows, so make sure you get it right. For a deeper dive on what constitutes a well-rounded equipment management system, check out Aerial Adventure Tech’s guide to Equipment Management Practices.
Assess and Improve Your Storage and Gear Up Area
A lot can be gained by having a well thought-out storage and gear up plan. Take the time during your busy season to note inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and sources of chaos, so you can make improvements for the next season. Create stations built to promote an efficient flow of guests and staff through these areas. Stick by manufacturer recommendations for equipment storage and avoid unnecessary damage by ensuring you have the right system in place. Make sure equipment that gets wet can be properly dried and that equipment storage areas are free of pests that can wreak havoc on your inventory. Reorganizing your storage and gear up areas can turn into a big project, so start early and make sure you have time to get your staff onboard with changes and updates.
Assess Trends in Wear
With all the above pieces in place, you should have a perfect vantage point to look for trends and issues with your equipment. Recurring damage on certain items can be caused by facility design quirks, staff inattention, or other variables that can be mitigated through improved operational procedures, maintenance, or renovations. If the bulk of your retired harnesses were retired because of worn webbing on the left side waist strap, there is likely something happening in daily use that caused this. Examine your guest experience, observe the patterns of equipment use and abuse, and address issues that cost you time and money.
We’ll leave you with two bonus tips that we think every operator should consider. First, talk to a qualified vendor about an Operational Review to assess critical management systems, analyze local operating procedures, and identify strategies for mitigating risk and hazard at your facility. Look for a vendor that has broad experience with a number of different types of facilities and understands the type of operations you are engaged in. Second, consider using equipment and inspection management software like Papertrail. Digitize your equipment logs, set inspection criteria and intervals, assign inspections to individual staff, and get reminded of upcoming recertifications. The Papertrail dashboard allows managers to quickly identify past due inspections, quarantine items, and trends in your equipment inventory.