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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 12:59 GMT
Safety rules 'threat' to climbers
The Braemar Mountain Rescue team at work
The Braemar Mountain Rescue team at work
Scotland's professional mountain leaders have claimed that European rules on working at heights could make their jobs impossible.

Their training organisation has said they could be forced to adopt measures intended for building sites.

An MEP has suggested that, as the regulations stand, teams would have to display signs warning that mountains are high.

And a leading Scottish expert on mountain safety has said he believes some instructors will break the law.

Workplace falls

The EU working at height regulations (WAHR) are due to be implemented in July.

They are intended to address one of the most common causes of injury and death at work.

In addition to the display of safety warnings, they make mandatory a range of working practices involving back-up systems.

But the mountaineering community is concerned that the rules could have unintended consequences for them.

Instructors and guides will carry on because this is the safest thing to do even if it means breaking the law
Roger Wild
Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Roger Wild, safety officer for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: "What we would really like is an exemption which would apply to adventurous activities.

"The safety record in mountaineering is very, very high."

The regulations have been put out to consultation but mountaineers have said they are not optimistic of major changes being accepted before the deadline of 2 April.

Some outdoor centres have claimed that it would be impossible to carry out their work within the new rules.

The campaign in the European Parliament against the regulations has been led by the Tory MEP, Jonathan Evans.

'This is madness'

He said: "If this legislation is implemented as it currently stands then activity centres will be legally compelled to post signs to tell people they are up high.

"This is madness - most people know that when they climb a mountain they will be up high."

However, representatives of the European Commission have denied that the requirement on warning signs will apply to mountaineering.

A spokesman in the UK for the Commission said: "It is pretty silly to suggest that warning signs would have to be placed on mountains.

"There is no suggestion in the EU legislation that this would be required."

Instructors in Scotland have said they are worried that some of the ways they ensure the safety of their students would be prohibited under the regulations.

Mountain walkers
People may have to be warned that mountains are high
They cited the example of using abseiling techniques to descend quickly when weather conditions deteriorate.

Mr Wild said: "Abseiling off a climb is something which happens every weekend on Scottish mountains.

"This is a safety technique, a way to escape a dangerous situation, but it is not possible to abseil off a climb under these regulations."

Instructors have claimed that abseiling would only be allowed in future if a second safety rope was in place.

But they point out that on a mountainside, there is no way to retrieve this rope after the last climber has descended.

"There will be a spin-off," said Mr Wild, "because the best practice of professional instructors tends to be followed by recreational climbers."

He predicted that many instructors would risk prosecution if they believed it was necessary to maintain safety while climbing.

"Instructors and guides will carry on because this is the safest thing to do even if it means breaking the law," he predicted.

The Health and Safety Executive, which will be in charge of implementing the regulations in the UK, has said it is awaiting a formal response from mountaineering organisations on the consultation exercise.

A spokeswoman said: "The issues about displaying signs refer to an industrial setting and not to the natural environment, and the HSE will address the mountaineering community's concerns.

"On abseiling, a change has been negotiated in the draft regulations allowing single rope working."

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