Risk assessment for outdoor programs

Is there a risk assessment process that outdoor programs should be using? How does the UPLOADS Accident Analysis framework link to risk assessment? These questions are raised again and again during UPLOADS training sessions.

Luckily for me (and the outdoor sector), Clare Dallat was recently awarded a PhD scholarship to investigate these questions. She’ll join the USCAR Research team in September to start working on developing a valid and reliable risk assessment process for outdoor activity providers.

At the recent Outdoors Victoria conference Clare and I conducted a workshop to start to tease out some of these issues. There’s not a lot of research around risk assessment specifically for outdoor programs, so we wanted to start by understanding why people conduct risk assessments, and identify key confusions around the process.

Responses to the question “what is the role of risk assessment in your organisation” were pretty variable. Key themes included: concerns about liability and creating a paper trail for the lawyers; legislative duties; the identification of potential hazards and control strategies; passing on knowledge about hazards to those who are less experienced (e.g. students and volunteers); and integrating accident analysis from other organisations into your risk management plans.

In these responses, there seems to be a tension between the goals that outdoor activity providers want to achieve through risk assessment (e.g. improved safety) and external pressures to complete paperwork. While there is no reason per se why these goals cannot co-exist, during the workshop doubts were raised over whether “compliance” necessarily means “safer”.

A second issue is whether one document can have the capacity to address all these aims. Even if we only examine the safety-related themes there is clear potential for working at cross purposes. For example, a detailed risk assessment and control plan may not be the best means of communicating about hazards to students and volunteers.

From the discussion within the workshop, it’s also clear that there is a lot of confusion around developing risk assessments. For example, what is required of a particular organisation or school? Why are there so many negotiables on the documents the OV website? What are the other standards that apply to my context? Why do HR departments have different requirements to what works in outdoor programs? What happens when schools have to outsource activities – who should do the risk assessment?

Obviously one workshop is not enough to even start to resolve these issues…but they are on the UPLOADS radar!

Click here if you’d like to view our presentation from the conference: Outdoors Victoria Risk Assessment



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