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Responsibility for Fixed Aids in Caves

The Old Ruminator

Well-known member
Help me out here o legal eagles. I am adding a few fixed aids in my latest project. Lets say ladders for rhe moment. Referring to fixed vertical ladder regs not surpisingly I find that I am way out on those. So questions arising --

If my fixed aid fails can I be sued now or in the future ?

Of course all such ladder types aids should be used with a lifeline. Am I responsible for maintaining that rule re duty of care ?

Who is responsible for upkeep and maintainance ?

Currently I have BCA Insurance but one day I wont when I retire. What happens then ? There has been a " historical " diving cliam against a boat skipper recently.

Thanks in advance


Well-known member
There is no definitive answer, but it's generally accepted that fixed aids are placed for the use of whoever placed them, & that anyone else who does so is at their own risk - unless someone / a group has undertaken to maintain them (e.g. anchor schemes). See also, from: Post in thread 'Methods of protecting in-situ ropes from unwanted usage' https://ukcaving.com/board/index.ph...u-ropes-from-unwanted-usage.19664/post-364941


Active member
Bit of subject but might help, In manholes on public roads where I worked installing them and the ladders anything over 3m deep ladders ended up being removed to stop people entering them who wasn’t aloud. Now adoption of the whole site takes up to 20 years by the council so for that period the builder was liable for example “kier”. afterwards when adoption was granted the water company say “Severn Trent” was liable ladders had to always be a certain standard/requirement different all over the country and runs had to be a set distance apart. At 9m deep law states to install resting platforms.when the drain lid was opened we always had to have the tri pod above it and set up and 1 of the 3 top men ready to descend clipped in.

Probably if not already consider a gate on the entrance with sign photograph this , then just in case you can say anyone was warned but I think the landowner or mineral rights owner would be the only 1 who would get told of/ risk of court in the case of a mine / cave it’s not a working site as such. If you was getting paid could cause issues I think then !?

I am unsure if a cave counts as a water course?


I suspect that Tom's suggestion of a sign at the entrance saying that the fixed aids in the cave are installed for your use only, are potentially dangerous, and use may result in injury or death, would probably allow you to use the "volenti non fit injuria" defence. But you'll probably need proper legal advice to get a reliable answer.


Active member
Just because you put a fixed aid in a cave, doesn't mean you endorse other people to use it.

We have left a few fixed aids in certain locations and I generally feel that providing we don't encourage or endorse anyone else to use them, it would be a difficult case to pin liability on us for doing anything wrong.

When the CNCC started publishing route descriptions several years ago, we debated the point of unapproved fixed aids. We chose to mention them in descriptions as 'navigational markers' only, with reminders that all cavers must make their own arrangements to safely ascend/descend the pitch. This struck a balance between being informative about the fixed aid but without encouraging anyone to actually use them.

Personally I feel that concerns over liability in caving are far too often cited as a reason not to do something.

In my opinion, if the situation warrants a fixed aid, put one in of good quality. Don't put your name to it in any published material and don't actively endorse its use.

Obviously there is a separate discussion to be had about whether fixed aids should be installed in caves on conservation and other grounds, and this will be situation-specific, so I'll leave that for a separate discussion and keep the discussion here to liability.

There are people on this forum who are far more qualified in legal matters who may (and probably will) disagree with my perspective... and I suspect it is their opinions that you should be taking on board and not mine. Although I have generally found that if you are the type to worry excessively about liability, and you listen to legal professionals, you would probably never leave the house.


Active member
Thinking on this more I would like to add .

In certain mines I have been where permission was not in place there was usually signs on the adit. Not saying no names.

Anyone entering this does so at their own risk no legal action can be taken.

Maybe you could have

anyone in this underground system using these fixed aids does so at there own risk ?

I do not no how this would stand legally but if I felt “concerned” like I think you might be,I would deem the sign more important than a section of 30cm by 30cm of some non mineralised face ? People may say otherwise but if it was their “neck” on the line ?


Well-known member
Basically, have you accepted a duty of care?

If you build a ladder deathtrap (through incompetence), then lead someone down it saying 'it'll be fine' and then it collapses, I suspect you would be bang to rights...

Whereas if a random caver turned up, and then the ladder failed, then unless you'd done something _outrageously_ negligent and reckless you could get almost every caver in the country to testify that in caving, fixed aids come with no liability, no duty of care and anyone using them has consented to the risks.


Surely someone can only be held liable if they are known to have installed the fixed aid. If a fixed ladder mysteriously appears in a place that just happens to be useful, who could someone sue - the ladder fairy maybe?

cap n chris

Well-known member
Surely someone can only be held liable if they are known to have installed the fixed aid. If a fixed ladder mysteriously appears in a place that just happens to be useful, who could someone sue - the ladder fairy maybe?
Indeed. Which is why the thread about creating a database of fixed aids was going to end up nowhere.

The Old Ruminator

Well-known member

Just to clarify. This is not a fixed aid. Its just a very old ladder installed purely for decorative purposes. Not saying that I put it there of course but if I did I was definitely not sound of mind and have no recollection of that. A further practical usage might be a roosting platform for bats. On no account should anyone attempt to climb it.