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National parks update safety rules after bridge malfunction

Hiking destinations are generally low-risk places for visitors, and safety watchdog Tukes does not mandate safety guidelines for all of Finland's parks.

Lapinsalmen riippusillalle kävelee nainen
A suspension bridge in the Repovesi national park. Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

State-owned forest administration Metsähallitus is preparing updated safety guidelines for some of Finland's national hiking routes, as recommended by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes).

Metsähallitus will also be reworking its customer safety guidelines in the autumn. The instructions are in effect nationwide, but no separate safety rules have been drawn up for the most challenging locations and their hazards.

"The hiking routes count as nature services, which are defined as services that require some kind of basic safety documentation as stipulated by the Consumer Safety Act," says Tukes group manager Mervi Murtonen.

The issue is not entirely clear, as the agency says that low-risk paths through natural areas do not all need specifically written guidelines.

"Nature services come in all forms. Cities mostly have easily accessible walking paths, whereas national parks may feature hazardous topography such as ravines and cliffs," Murtonen says.

The tracks also involve risks related to the physical scale of the environments and the number of visitors.

"A national park is such a large entity to manage that a definitive safety guide is necessary," says Murtonen.

In early July a cable on a suspension bridge in the Repovesi national park in Kouvola failed with nine people walking on it. No one was injured, and Tukes manager Janne Niemelä says there is "no direct connection" between the incident and the move to update safety protocols.

No binding safety directive

Environment chief Sirpa Ellä from Metsähallitus says that safety watchdog Tukes has not given the agency any binding mandate to draw up safety documentation for the areas it oversees.

Metsähallitus holds that since the infrastructure services in national parks are not based on guided tours or activities, official visitor-oriented safety guidelines are also unnecessary. The forest agency's own guidelines hold that national parks pose only minimal safety risks.

However, Ellä says that Metsähallitus is aware of the real hazards involved in many natural environments.

"We are constantly developing our own programmes and rules. Our handbook states that it is our responsibility to maintain walkways and other structures and to inform the public about their upkeep," Ellä says.

Edited at 12:00 to clarify that the Repovesi bridge did not collapse after the wire snapped.

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