Personal Safety and Protection

A central tenant of anchor replacement work is that we don’t risk our own lives in order to effect the work we are striving to accomplish. As volunteers there is no reason to ever risk our own safety in order to try and improve the safety of others. There is likely always an alternative solution to putting yourself in any type of risk in order to gain access to a route or to effect the replacement of an anchor.

It should be no surprise that when we introduce powers tools and rope work we introduce unique hazards not common to recreational climbing. What follows are some thoughts on personal protective equipment (PPE) to mitigate some of those hazards. Rope work and proper use of specific rope access equipment is outside the scope of this document. Consult the technical safety data sheets and manuals for your equipment.

The following personal protective equipment is likely to be good standard practice for anyone routinely developing routes or replacing bolts.

  • Eye protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Falling object protection (helmet that meets EN 12492)
  • Respiratory protection (N95 or better face mask)
  • Gloves (half-finger or full-finger)

The hazards to our eyes and noggins should be self-evident. Try as we may, we can never fully control what is above us and a helmet provides an additional margin of protection against gravity influenced objects. Equally, power tools which are spinning at several thousand rotations per minute can fling debris towards our eyes causing injury and possibly a life full of bad pirate jokes. While these are obvious hazards, less thought is likely given to the hearing and respiratory hazards those installing fixed hardware are subject to.

Anyone that has drilled a deep and large diameter hole with a rotary hammer can tell you that this tool is LOUD! The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) maintains a database of various tools and their sound power levels [1]. While NIOSH does not have information specifically for rotary hammers, their data for hammer drills suggests the average sound power level is around 100 dB. Indeed, a cursory survey of various rotary hammer manufacturers technical specification sheets suggests that 100 dB is a fair average for rotary hammers under load.

What is interesting and somewhat disconcerting is a disconnect between NIOSH (part of the CDC) and OSHA on what the acceptable exposure times are. NIOSH’s 1998 recommendations say no more than 15 mins per 24 hours at 100 dB [2], while OSHA’s 2009 recommendations say 2 hours is the max permissible time at 100 dB [3]. This discrepancy is noted in OSHA material [4]. Given the discrepancy, the conservative approach would be to side with the lower exposure time at 15 mins. This lower limit should start to concern the typical route developer as likely a day of bolting nears or surpasses the NIOSH permissible exposure times. The prudent conclusion is that we should be wearing some type of hearing protection when running our drills.

While being noisy, drilling holes for fixed anchor installation is also messy, creating copious amounts of rock dust. An integral part of any fixed anchor’s proper installation is cleaning this dust out of the hole. Introducing this dust into the air creates the main respiratory hazard to the fixed anchor installer. While the lungs are effective at processing inhaled particulate debris, they are sometimes unable to process certain inorganic materials. Of particular concern to the fixed anchor installer is silica which can be found in many different types of rock such as granite and quartz.

Inhalation of silica can lead to the chronic and possibly terminal medical condition known as silicosis [5]. NIOSH recommends the use of an N95 filter (basic face mask respirator) or better to protect against the risks of silica inhalation [6].


PPE References