By day, Lionel Kiener is a micro-mechanical engineer for Neuchâtel-based research company CSEM. In his spare time he is a keen climber and one of the many volunteers who gives up their precious time to support the UIAA.
Kiener has been volunteering with the UIAA for well over a decade. Despite a busy work schedule, he manages to contribute around 100 hours per year to the organisation in his role with the Safety Commission (SafeCom). He is currently its Vice President.
Although he professes to knowing little about the UIAA at the time of joining (like many climbers his first knowledge of the UIAA came from ‘those four letters on my climbing gear’), Kiener was keen to offer his expertise in engineering particularly his experience across safety standards in the aerospace industry. Having long held an interest in climbing, equipment and human behaviour, he initially applied to join the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) as a SafeCom delegate. “As the only applicant, they had to choose me!”, he jokes. The Swiss national still plays an active role within the SAC, writing yearly reports updating them on any major changes in UIAA Standards.
Working alongside Safety Label Administrator Stephanie Stettbacher and delegates of the Safety Commission, Kiener has been involved in numerous projects for the UIAA. He is particularly proud of the work achieved with regards water repellency for ropes, Energy Absorbing Systems (EAS) for Via Ferrata and the corrosion research regarding rock anchors. He continues: “All aspects are important to me; seeing how manufacturers and climbers welcome new standards, such as snow shovels or crash pads can be very satisfactory.”
Like most volunteers, balancing work and home life with the added responsibility of volunteering can at times be tricky. Often having to take holiday from a full-time job to perform tasks such as reading and preparing correspondence and attending meetings can be a drawback. However, Kiener believes the special atmosphere and dynamic within the UIAA makes things a lot easier, having been welcomed and integrated from the moment he arrived. This included spending an entire day with the former SafeCom President, Jean Franck Charlet, who took the time to show Kiener the ENSA lab in Chamonix and a demonstration of many UIAA tests.
It is the sense of community that Kiener believes makes the organisation so unique, with a number of different cultures all working together for a common goal. Even when working with manufacturers with whom delegates may not always share the same opinion. “Everyone works together, and at the end of the day, shares a beer or goes climbing together,” adds Kiener.
As for the future direction of the UIAA and SafeCom, Kiener believes that the continuing education of climbers is essential and in an era of fake news and misinformation, the UIAA has a key role to play. “We face a critical time, people want to have fun without constraints, but it has an impact on their own safety and that of other people. We need to deliver a consistent message across our platforms and as a serious and official organisation. Especially as there is a lot of bad and conflicting advice out here.”
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