UIAA Safety Standards Update: Crash Pads

A new safety standard has been created by the UIAA Safety Commission dedicated to the safety requirements and test methods for crash pads for use in bouldering climbing.

The document is available to view and download here.

The Test Method

UIAA 161, CRASH PADS Determination of the critical fall height, is a standard for the performance of bouldering pads, the mobile type that individual boulderers carry. 

The test method defined by the standard measures the performance of crash pads based on the HIC (Head Injury Criteria) score, which was initially developed to correlate head impact with head injury for automobile accidents and has since been used extensively for characterizing playground surfaces.

This is how it works. Essentially, a test “head” is dropped from various heights until the height that corresponds with a HIC score of 800 is found. A HIC score of 800 is recognised as the critical fall height for the crash pad and roughly corresponds to a fall distance for which a boulderer will feel “comfortable” when landing on the pad.

Technically, if a boulderer’s head was allowed to impact the pad in a fall from this fall height, the probability of serious brain injury equates to less than 2% and the odds of fatality are vanishingly small. As a comparison, according to UIAA 161, the critical fall height for solid rock is about 15 cm (6 inches). At this fall height, you could expect to suffer minor injury (concussion) and a certain level of discomfort.

The UIAA critical fall height for crash pads is more stringent than the critical fall height specified by playground surface standards (for example, ASTM F1292 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials Within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment & EN 1177 Impact attenuating playground surfacing – Determination of critical fall height). This discrepancy is a direct result of the research conducted by the UIAA, which shows that no reasonable boulderer will willingly fall on a crash pad from a height that would lead to brain injury.

The UIAA Safety Commission recognizes that bouldering injuries predominantly occur to the extremities – ankles, wrists – rather than to the head. For the time being, the relationship between crash pad performance – for example cushiness and slipperiness – and extremity injury is less well understood than the relationship between head deceleration and brain injury.

As a consequence, the UIAA Safety Commission looks forward to developing a greater understanding of crash pad performance and how it might be standardized to reduce extremity injury.

Further information on Head Injury Criteria:

Canadian Association of Playground Practitioners

UIAA Safety Standards

UIAA Standards are the only ‘globally recognized’ standards for mountaineering equipment.

The UIAA Standards are reviewed at intervals to see whether they meet the latest technical requirements and revised if necessary.

The UIAA invites manufacturers of mountaineering and climbing equipment worldwide to become members of the UIAA Safety Commission as Safety Label Holders. Members can participate in discussions on standard requirements, test methods and revisions thereof (see the “General Regulations for the UIAA Safety Label”).

A complete list of UIAA Standards for mountaineering and climbing equipment can be found on the UIAA website.