Risk & Safety in Outdoor Education.

Risk & Safety in Outdoor Education.

6 year old Kids climbing trees in Dolomites, Italy.Great short article by Keith McCabe – a Member of our Brisbane Thinking Group (See: What is a Thinking Group?), First published this on LinkedIn. With enough support from readers we may be able to convince him to become one of our Awesome Authors and not waste any more time over there!

Safety (my opinion!) Safety is a state within which there is no risk, does such a state exist? I wouldn’t say so with any certainty, there are no absolutes with risk, which is one of the reasons I hope expressions like Zero Harm will cease to be used.

Outdoor Education (OE) is the subject which is best placed to teach self-reliance, interdependence and leadership, the development of an adventurous spirit, managing personal risks, safe journeys in nature, the value of life-long outdoor recreation for enjoyment, health and well-being, understanding nature through direct experience and studying, and for developing deeper human-nature relationships.

So how do we go about balancing our duty of care to prevent harm to students when intentionally placing them in risky situations? Perhaps the answer lies in the acknowledgement of risk and the level of control we can obtain. Risk is too often seen as a negative, something to be eliminated, I’ve already mentioned that I believe this to be an impossible task you simply cannot eliminate risk. Well not without eliminating the activity that incorporates the risk.

Risk needs to be managed and acknowledged not eliminated, Outdoor education activities should be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible. Managing risks are important, but taking risk away completely can hinder the experience, there needs to be an element of perceived risk for the student. By managing the actual risk, but putting them in a risky environment, you can control and manage what may seem to the student more risky than not.

It should be a risk-benefit exercise as opposed to risk elimination. I acknowledge, that mainly for insurance purposes; organisations need to be able to demonstrate safe work practices and conditions. There are laws and rules and standards that need to be followed and complied with but the idea of a perfectly safe and risk free environment needs to be forgotten and replaced with a risk aware environment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts,


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