Ian is absolutely right that this matter has come to our attention lately.
In the past (going back several years) when we have discussed topos and anchors, the matter of liability kept coming up. Statistically when you have a room full of people, you will have some people who take a more relaxed attitude to liability, and you will have others who will present the worst possible scenario.
This is one of the benefits of committees, as it brings together a wide variety of viewpoints. However, we have found that where liability is concerned, it often only takes a few people to explain worst-case scenarios, for these scenarios to then dominate the discussions and the minds of those involved.
For that reason, we have historically stuck with showing and ‘endorsing’ only anchors which we can prove were installed according to a CNCC/BCA approved anchor scheme. In doing so, if an incident arose from one of our anchors, we could defend ourselves by showing due diligence in our ‘endorsement’ of that anchor (i.e. everything was done in accordance with policies and tested procedures). In particular, we would be able to demonstrate no negligence in our actions.
In the past, the concern has been that if we displayed a non-CNCC anchor on a CNCC-published topo, that is arguably tantamount to endorsing its use. If that anchor failed and caused injury, a lawyer could argue that a regional caving council was negligent to appear to endorse an anchor of unknown age, material, which had been installed by persons unknown, with no records or training.
The same applies to other fixed aids in caves (e.g. ropes). You will note that in our cave descriptions, in-situ ropes such as those on the Ease Gill trade route, and the up-pitch on the recently published F’ing Hopeless description, are referred to only as ‘navigational markers’ to avoid any suggestion that we endorse them for any other purpose.
We agree that the chances of an anchor failing are slim; The chances of that resulting in serious injury are slim, the chances of that injury resulting in a liable case are slim, and the chances of that liable case successfully pinning blame on CNCC seem almost zero. However, when you are sat in a meeting having a worst-case scenario explained in gory detail, it is sometimes hard to dismiss these concerns.
We appreciate that lots of people will feel this is a huge fuss about nothing, and it probably is!
Over the last few years CNCC has taken steps towards addressing these issues. For example, we were frustrated that there are a large number of resin bonded stainless steel anchors across our region that do not appear on our topos because they were not installed under a CNCC scheme. Examples are Bar Pot Big Pitch alternative, Dale Head Pot, and several anchors across numerous other potholes.
Most of these anchors are well placed and we have no reason to doubt their integrity. However, the problem is that unlike our own anchors, we have no data to endorse their integrity either.
We do feel however that (much as we do in our descriptions for many in-situ ropes) providing cavers with information about the location of useful, visually sound, non-CNCC anchors is important for several reasons.
Hence, CNCC has now agreed to show selected non-CNCC-installed anchors on our topos where there is good justification, most likely with a different symbol. As Ian has said above, CNCC are currently finalising our approach on this. We are in a position to do this now as we feel the combination of our disclaimers, our anchor safety guidance on our website, and the use of a separate symbol, should satisfy our need for due diligence and avoid any accusations of negligence should the unlikely ever happen.
Of course, this does not mean these anchors will magically appear on our topos overnight; We do not have a database of non-CNCC anchors 'ready to go' and we cannot be expected to know about anchors that we did not place. We will rely on volunteers to perform visual checks on the integrity and appropriateness of non-CNCC anchors, and redraw the topos to show their locations, so it will be a slow process.
However, we are pleased to report that you will soon start seeing some non-CNCC approved anchors appearing on our topos, where there is significant benefit to doing so, which we think is a really good step forward.