Zip lines are a growing attraction in Connecticut, but just how safe are they when you or your kids hook in?
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters found the zip line industry is mostly self-regulated with little to no government oversight. Not only that, several zip line businesses in Connecticut admit they've had a few accidents, albeit with minor injuries. Thing is, there's no way to know exactly how many accidents there have been because no one is keeping track. Not even the government.
The executive director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology or ACCT, James Borishade pointed out "the industry has been around for decades now and we feel it's working."
The ACCT is a membership organization that sets minimum standards for zip line companies when it comes to construction, but it's up to each state to set its own safety regulations and Connecticut doesn't have any on the books. That means it's completely up to the business owner to follow and comply with the industry standards. However, no one is really checking if they do or not.
The good news here in Connecticut is that many companies are following the industry standard. NBC Connecticut visited 3 local zip line attractions and found equipment and procedures do vary, though, depending on the zip line course.
At Empower Leadership Sports and Adventure Center in Middletown, riders get a 1/2 harness, helmet, braided nylon rope tether with 2 self locking caribiners, plus a comprehensive safety briefing.
At Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park in Portland, riders again get a 1/2 harness, a helmet just for the climb up, not the zip...and a life jacket because of the water. This park, though, uses a lanyard and a quick connect caribiner for the zip. A quick connect caribiner must be locked by an employee. It doesn't lock by itself. Also, there's no mandatory safety briefing, but you can ask for one.
At the Woodbury Ski Area, riders get 1/2 body harness and helmet, a lanyard similar to Brownstone's, but one equipped with a self-locking carabiner like those used at Empower. Riders can also expect a quick safety talk on the way up.
All of the zip line companies NBC Connecticut visited say they follow ACCT standards, but again admit those standards apply only to construction of the course. There is no equipment standard that says you have to use a helmet, a specific harness, or certain kind of carabiner. Jacobs says it's not needed and would restrict creativity.
"The manufacturers of the design would be working to select compatible components. So on some zip lines they may be using a seat harness, they might be using a sea harness and chest harness," said Jacobs.
Jacobs offered this advice to zip line riders before they take flight. "You can ask to see a copy of their inspection report, whether its a state inspection report or an independent third party inspection," he said.
Empower & Brownstone both offered to let us see their inspection reports. Woodbury did not respond to our requests to see their report in time for our story.
Even though some argue federal legislation is needed to keep this growing industry safe, industry insiders say self-policing works. They says there's no proof right now that individual state laws make zip lines any safer than the current ACCT standard.
"We know in comparison to the number of riders verses incidents, those numbers are low and that is by looking at and discussing with insurance companies who represent the industry," said Borishade.