Working at height in sport

Working at height in sport

When talking about daring high-altitude jobs, workers in the construction industry almost always come to mind first, but there are other daredevils out there who also work at height. The difference is they call it a sport

These daredevils attract tourists and adrenaline junkies the world over. They are instructors, trainers and coaches of dangerous recreational sports. Their lives and those of their clients always hang by a thread. One mistake could see a life taken in seconds.

Safety first

These are some of the most dangerous jobs at height, but most of the workers, and their clients, survive these sports because they take safety seriously.

Adventure operators offer activities and experiences on their own properties, or using their own equipment. To become an adventure sport operator in South Africa, one needs to register as a business and meet the standards and regulations set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act No 181 of 1993 and the National Sports and Recreation Act No. 110 of 1998.

Safety equipment – including harnesses, helmets and gloves – is essential for the safety of workers and clients in the adventure sport industry. This equipment must be provided by the adventure operators, who are required to also have a thorough knowledge of the different types of equipment.

For example, there are different harnesses for different uses. Andreo du Preez, height safety trainer and fall protection planner at Nosa, says harnesses are designed for specific tasks at height, ranging from basic fall-arrest harnesses to top-of-the-range rope-access harnesses. “Employers must, therefore, carefully consider the tasks that their workforce needs to perform before procuring safety harnesses,” says Du Preez.

Working at height in sportSafety equipment can, however, only work effectively with trained coaches and supervisors. In South Africa, there are two ways to get qualified in adventure sports: through the training programmes offered by an adventure organisation, such as the Mountaineering Development and Training and Parachute Association of South Africa, or to get an NQF-rated qualification from a certified education and training institute.

Here are a few facts about some of these high-altitude sports:

Zip lining

Researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States (US) released a study in October 2015, in which they estimated that 16 850 non-fatal zip-line-related injuries were recorded in the country’s emergency rooms between 1997 and 2012.

On average, 48 people are killed per year around the world by zip lining, of which at least six of these deaths are recorded in the US. Four out of the five people killed in the US, while taking part in this activity in 2015, were zip-line workers.


Abseiling was originally used by rock climbers as a method to descend back to the ground. Over the years it has become a sport in itself to find a cliff and abseil off of it. In 2015, a 29-year-old abseil worker fell 25 m from the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Australia, while cleaning the windows.

The longest commercially operated single-drop abseil of 204 m in height takes you off the edge of the Maletsunyane waterfall in Semonkong, Lesotho.

When abseiling, for the most part the scenery is quite magnificent, but anything from faulty gear to avalanches can ruin the moment and result in tragedy.


In 2012, 47-year-old skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, jumped from 39 km above the earth’s surface and survived, but many aren’t as lucky. An estimated 41 skydiving deaths were recorded in 2015, of which 18 took place in the US.

Bungee jumping

People have a one in 500 000 chance of dying while bungee jumping, which, as statistics go, isn’t that bad; it’s safer than cycling. Although, when bungee jumping accidents do occur, they usually involve a 50 to 100-m fall. This is unless you leap off the world’s highest platform on the Bloukrans Bridge in the Western Cape, where the fall would be 216 m.

So, if you want to get your heart rate up, put your trust in one of these workers and jump!

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