Routes are the primary product that a climbing gym delivers to customers and the employees that curate and create these products have some extra considerations when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With an area of operations as rife with risk as routesetting it is paramount that a thorough review of procedures is undertaken to encourage safety and mitigate risks, old and new. 




  1. PPE inspections: Prior to reopening to the public and recommencing routesetting, gyms should review their PPE inspection logs and catch up on any items therein that are out of date or that lapsed while the gym was closed.
  2. Take extra care to review items that may have been stored improperly during gym closures (ex - helmets stored compressed), as well as items that may have been exposed to cleaning chemicals that may have been employed during any COVID sanitization efforts.
  1. Common Hazards
    • Review existing Job Hazard Assessments and add or update new JHAs according to any new COVID-19 related risks. (See below for a sample JHA)
    • Normal routesetting, stripping, and cleaning should be considered a medium risk exposure according to OSHA guidelines, defined as "Routine cleaning and housekeeping in spaces frequented by staff and/or members of the general public."
    • The recommended PPE for medium risk exposure is not dissimilar to normal PPE a routesetter might wear. Gloves, respirators or masks, and gowns, aprons, or protective suits can all be considered appropriate PPE depending on your JHA and the cleaning task.
  2. Other Hazards
    • A Job Hazard Assessment of each routesetting job or task should be undertaken and documented.
    • Some tasks that a routesetter might perform may elevate to high-risk exposure and may require additional PPE.
  3. Cohorting
    • Keeping small setting teams together in “Quaranteams” can help track any potential exposure, contain any spread to smaller groups, and more quickly track changes in health.
    • Likewise, routesetting teams maybe separated from other staff groups. Routesetters often have less exposure to the general public and separating staff physically, or by time, may help mitigate transmission risks in the workplace.


  1. Community tools include any routesetting tools that are shared amongst a routesetting crew.
    • This includes but is not limited to:
      • T-handles, Angle Grinders, Bolt Carts, Tap-Screws, Specialty, Drill-Bits, Setting Buckets, Work-at-Heights PPE, bolts, screws, washers
  2. Mitigate risk of disease spread
    • Tools and Equipment
      • Clean your hands: Consider supplying hand sanitizing or cleaning solutions on the bolt cart or in the hold room for easy access and use.
      • Cover your hands: Wearing gloves while touching community tools is another method that may prevent exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
        • Keep in mind that the external surface of work gloves can still transfer contaminants.
        • Do not touch the face while wearing gloves and wash hands before and after wearing gloves.
      • Clean the tools: You may also disinfect tools before or after each use.
        • Check manufacturers’ recommendations before using any disinfectant on tools or equipment.
    • Work-at-Height PPE
      • If your gym shares work-at-height equipment, consider limiting shared equipment between routesetters.
      • If certain equipment must be shared establish clear policies and procedures for use and cleaning.
        • Use manufacturer, government, and industry resources to develop your policies
          • Check the manufacturers recommendations before using any disinfectant on equipment.


  1. Setting habits and physical performance: Due to extended gym closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that routesetters will have varying diminished levels of fitness upon their return to work. It is recommended that gyms take these possibly reduced levels of fitness into account when restarting their routesetting programs.
    • Routesetting program administrators (Head Routesetters, Directors of Routesetting, etc.) should consider scaling workloads and/or work assignments to accommodate for this.
  2. Practicing access skills: It’s likely that routesetters will not have used the rope access or rigging skills that they normally would have while setting for quite some time.
    • Consider developing a review system for routesetting staff to reacquaint them with relevant at-height skills prior to setting.
    • Include training on any new PPE requirements or processes.
  3. Climbing performance: Routesetters will likely have experienced an extended period of either inactivity or lack of climbing due to the worldwide gym closures. Setters' climbing performance will likely have decreased during the pandemic as a result.
    • Routesetting program administrators should take this into account and adjust as needed to workloads / assignments when reinstituting their programs.
      • Due to diminished climbing fitness levels, forerunning loads that were previously sustainable by routesetting staff may need to be adjusted accordingly.
      • Use alternate training and recovery methods: While setters’ bodies reacclimate to the rigors of both setting and forerunning, consider exploring / implementing alternate or non-climbing training methods to increase overall fitness levels.


  1. Refer to national guidelines, CWA Work-at-Height, and established facility safety procedures when reviewing and revising your Job Hazard Assessment for stripping holds.
    • Ensure that you are not introducing additional risks when adding new COVID-19 related protocols.
  2. Designate appropriate PPE.
    • PPE may include but isn’t limited to gloves, safety googles, and masks.
  3. Consider stripping below shoulder height to help reduce chalk/dirt from entering eyes, nose, and mouth, even when wearing designated PPE.
  4. Wash and disinfect hands before and after stripping.
  5. Clean or disinfect PPE and other equipment as outlined in your Job Hazard Assessment.
    • Check the manufacturers recommendations before using any disinfectant on equipment.


  1. Anyone washing holds should be trained in new PPE requirements and usage, policies, and procedures as outlined in your Job Hazard Assessment.
    • Consider limiting the maximum exposure time for staff when cleaning holds.
  2. Mitigate risks when washing holds. Options:
    • Chemical disinfection prior to washing
      • Holds may be disinfected prior to power or hand washing to avoid aerosolizing of potential COVID-19 virus.
      • According to the CDC: a recommended disinfectant solution of 5 tablespoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water for 1 minute will deactivate the COVID-19 virus.
      • Review the EPA list of approved disinfectants for any other chemicals you may be considering or already are using to clean holds.
      • Designate appropriate PPE and procedures in a Job Hazard Assessment.
        • PPE may include but isn’t limited to gloves, safety googles, and masks.
    • Quarantining of holds prior to washing
      • Holds can be quarantined on the wall prior to stripping. Close off areas prior to stripping to ensure no one touches any holds during the quarantine period.
        • Make sure that these areas are communicated to everyone in the gym and are clearly demarcated.
      • Or, after stripping holds from the wall, quarantine the holds in an isolated storage area prior to washing.
      • Designate appropriate PPE and procedures in a Job Hazard Assessment for handling holds.
    • Hold washing
      • Washing may aerosolize contaminants and should be done only after a chemical disinfection or quarantine period.
      • Wash holds in an area with sufficient airflow or outdoors if possible.
      • Designate appropriate PPE and procedures in a Job Hazard Assessment for washing holds.


  1. Review existing Job Hazard Assessments and add or update according to any new COVID-19 related risks.
  2. Maintain physical distancing while forerunning and adjusting problems.
  3. Consider providing high alcohol liquid chalk and cleaning hands between different routes and tasks.
  4. Ensure that routesetters are trained on new gym policies and are physically ready to return to forerunning.


This Job Hazard Analysis covers the way a gym might approach the task of hold strripping. The individual recomendations are not universal, but should give you an idea of how to fill out a form like this, and what areas to consider. See the sample here You can learn more about JHAs from OSHA, or your national health and safety organization.



  1. Routesetters should have a climbing session before resetting to re-internalize grades and movement
    • Allows setters to get a feel for what grades in the gym used to be and what they should feel like.
      • If old routes are still available have an extended climbing session to help get a feel for your old grades.
      • Or, the head routesetter can set some benchmark routes to give routesetters an example to reference as a team.
      • You can also set several boulders as a team and discuss why a certain climb is at a certain grade.
    • Allow for extra time when routesetting for additional discussion around customer experience, safety, and grades.
    • Routesetters should follow the principles in the routesetting safety section of this guidance to ensure proper physical conditioning and reduce the risk of injury.
  2. Treat reopening like an initial set and consider customer’s physical and decision making abilities at all grade levels.
    • Acknowledge that your members will not have done major/regular climbing for many weeks and may be out of shape physically and mentally. They will need to become refamiliarized with the holds, walls, angles, heights, fall zones, flooring, and environmental stimuli.
    • Routesetters should place extra emphasis on observing and surveying returning customer’s abilities, habits, and needs.
    • Pay attention to what areas of the gym, styles of climbing, and wall angles have the highest traffic.
      • Consider resetting these areas at a higher frequency.


  1. Physical needs
    • Customers may not be as strong, whether whole body or just in specific areas like fingers and shoulders.
      • May not be as coordinated/able to move.
      • Home training will often not translate to gym climbing experience.
    • May not be aware of actual physical state when they first return to climbing
      • May make risky choices due to unrealistic understanding of their own physical state and current ability level.
      • May become frustrated by not understanding how to return to “expected” level.
    • There may be increased risks when returning to complex climbing movement.
      • Avoid using high profile volumes or holds low on the wall that could become fall hazards as spatial awareness may be reduced.
      • Consider reducing lateral travel in dynamic movements.
      • Consider reducing intensity of shoulder engagement.
      • Be mindful of members overall reduced strength.
    • When lead climbing, clipping ability may be limited by mask wearing.
      • Consider stable positions that allow 3 points of contact while clipping
      • Routes and clipping stances should encourage clipping in front of the climber’s body and not overhead.
  2. Mental state
    • Returning climbers may not have the same spatial awareness or comfort levels they had before.
      • Consider adding additional downclimbing jugs on boulders.
      • Consider reducing the height of finishing holds for lower grades.
      • Consider tapering difficulty towards the tops of boulders.
    • May not be as aware of their abilities.
      • May try moves they aren’t prepared to do.
      • May underestimate ability to hold certain holds or moves.
      • May be injured from falling or from holding a hold or strenuous position.
      • May not have a good mental measure for when to stop trying a move or moves or when to stop for the day.
    • Maybe rusty on decision making.
      • May not consider risks appropriately.
      • May forget to consider risks due to over excitement or false feeling of familiarity with moves/holds/wall angles/floors/fall zones.
    • May be overly excited or overwhelmed in gym environment due to:
      • New safety protocols
        • Focus on social distancingand other new policiesmaydistractfrom climbing risk assessment and decision making.
      • Mask Wearing
        • May be uncomfortable.
        • Changes awareness of, and interaction with, the environment.
        • May cause a distraction and affect communication.
    • Other people
      • Being excited to see others, remembering to practice social distancing, sharing walls, and more can all take away from remembering to pay attention to safety.


  1. Help members understand that they will take a few sessions or a few weeks to feel “back to normal” as climbers.
    1. Offer your own experiences so they understand that everyone is going through this.
    2. Remind them to take things slowly and focus on staying healthy and having fun as their body relearns how to move.
    3. Create a plan and release a statement re: grading and setting goals for this reopening time to avoid people getting an unrealistic idea of your gym grading scale while also avoiding frustration.
      1. Communication about grading policies is a great way to reduce customer frustration. Explain that all climbers and routesetters are in an adjustment and reconditioning period and things may take some time to return to normal.
  2. Make a communication plan including in-gym signage, staff training, and social media presence.
    1. Social Media
      1. Interview with a setter or setters on social media.
        1. Discolse what the setting plan will be and what customers should expect.
      2. Discussions with trainers/coaches on social media.
        1. Cover physical considerations and the steps to get feeling back to normal.
    2. Email Blasts
      1. You can include info or links to information about new routesetting policies.
    3. Non-routesetting Staff Training
      1. Give all staff an understanding of the setting mentality so they can communicate any new policies accurately to members.
        1. If there are new policies(e.g. ungraded climbs,softer grades, or easier tops) make sure you, your team, and other staff are informed and can communicate them to members.
      2. Prepare staff to help customers understand their own climbing at this time as described above.
      3. A troubleshooting document about new policies can help staff easily answer questions about new policies.
    4. In Gym Signage
      1. Collaborate with other departments to ensure proper signage throughout the facility.

We want our customers to come back to the grades and experiences they’re familiar with in their gym. Give people the ability to refamiliarize themselves with all aspects of the gym without exposing them to unnecessary risk.