The Problem With Risk Assessments!
As soon as people hear risk assessment, most people switch off! I could say whatever I liked from now on and nobody would be any wiser. Once, I kidnapped a dolphin from Sea World and kept him in my swimming pool for weeks. We had several massive pool parties and it was awesome! So many people came and just swam around in the pool with him. We named him flipper! (Ok, so not very original for the name, but between him, Skippy in the back yard and Caramello living up the tree, once you start kidnapping animals as a hobby, you just go with the names everyone knows!)
See what I mean! If you actually made it to here, then you would understand my pain, or you think I'm mental or both! The fact is that most people would've stopped reading after the first line. It’s like when someone tells you they’re an accountant… The conversation usually ends there. However, risk assessment and risk management is a real issue that’s not just making sure you have your paper work done. It has to be an active process that’s taken seriously by everyone and not just something which makes people switch off and start looking for Pokémons with their phones.
The reason for adding in my wild dolphin parties was actually something I did as an exercise once with the program staff. It wasn’t a dolphin party, but how cool would that be! Anyway, I digress. I'd reviewed and updated the entire risk manage framework and needed to get everyone up to speed with the changes. This required everyone to do some reading. I was suspicious to begin with that nothing would be read, so I handed out the documents and unbeknown to them, this version of the risk assessments contained a bunch of massive errors. Some of the risks for a canoe expedition were: Attack by Hobbits, running into Cerberus (the demonic multi-headed dog that guards the gates Hades), being overrun by fluffy bunnies and drowning in chocolate syrup! To my disbelief, three people signed off on this risk assessment!!! I asked them again if they had any concerns or anything to add, ‘No, all good!’ was the standard response. “Really…,” I said, before asking each of them if they were happy to rely upon everyone being saved by Eagles when attacked by hordes of orcs? Stunned expressions turned to embarrassment when I provided a highlighted copy with all the glaringly obvious fake bits.
So does anybody read this rubbish? Basically, the answer is No! They don’t read it and it’s often a massive task to get anyone to write a risk assessment. Most are inappropriately copied and pasted from someone else’s work and don’t even match the real risk profile of the activity. Who would’ve thought that teaching is a hot bed of plagiarism!
Whilst I’m not saying don’t do it, I am saying there’s a massive problem that needs fixing here. What’s the point of wasting time with the creation of something that has very little value and nobody is actually using. What needs to happen is far different from what is actually happening in many schools when preparing for an excursion. The danger is that you’ve copied something that doesn’t make sense and submitted that as part of your official documentation. If this is the case and something goes wrong, this is just as bad, if not worse, than having nothing at all, because it demonstrates a complete disconnection from the awareness implementation of effective risk management strategies.
Ultimately no single person should be responsible for the risk assessment and management. It’s up to everybody on the team to contribute and turn those mindless pointless risk assessment forms that may contain attacks by mythical creatures, into functional living documents based upon industry best practices and a culture that proactively takes risk management off the page and continues to put it into action. Whilst I’ll revisit this later in some more detail, I must go and catch a plane, as my house has just been raided by National Parks and Wildlife. I might need to find a new hobby!
Managing medical concerns at school and on excursions is one of my biggest worries as a teacher! Anaphylaxis is at the top of that list, since a reaction can be almost instant from the allergen and has a cascading effect. This means the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to recover. However, despite this serious concern, it just means effective strategies need to be in place to ensure preventative measures are the number 1 priority.
In outdoor education, we usually run our programs a considerable distance from emergency medical care. As a result, this adds an additional layer of risk to any trip away. However, rather than worry about this and feel as though it’s too risky to take kids away, my focus has always been on effective preparation and management. This ensures that the chances for an anaphylactic reaction becomes so low, it’s not an issue.
If a student’s medical profile is flagged with an anaphylactic allergy, I’ll phone home and talk to mum and dad. What I need to know when I call is what are the specific triggers? Can they have foods which might contain traces of the allergen? When was the last reaction and what happened? Even though this information might be in the medicals, I prefer the first hand information from parents, so I can effectively brief my staff. I also want to know how well their son or daughter manages their allergy. Are they aware of what can happen? Are they aware of what foods they can and can’t have? This information is vital in helping provide teachers with the best management strategies in the field.
As an example, on one program, I had 247 students out in the field for a week long camp. 11 of the students had allergies which could result in an anaphylactic reaction. Based upon the information from the parents, and the fact some activities were hours away from emergency care, I carefully placed students with the highest needs in the closest proximity to emergency healthcare facilities. In one of the extreme cases, given the number of allergens that the student was affected by, I asked his mum to provide and pack the week’s food in an esky for her son and I provided a clean stove which was specifically for his personal use.
At the end of the day, it about clear channels of communication between parents, teachers and the child. Even though all staff are trained in first aid and anaphylaxis treatment, effective preparation and prevention is far more important. For every activity we do, we go armed with a list of dietary requirements and only shop according to each individual excursion. We don’t plan meals months in advance to save time. It’s about providing the best meal options for each individual group. This way, we’re prepared and able to ensure we provide a safe environment for every child and a wonderful memorable experience away from school.
Nothing Like $1,000 Worth Of Shopping!
From the snow to a stunning winter’s day in Sydney, last week I took a group of year 7 students to Middle Head for a geography and history excursion. There were all the elements of a fun day out of the classroom as well as to get a real feel for the natural and built environment and how it changes over time. Even though the kids are all from Sydney, I was surprised how many hadn’t been to Middle Head, or anywhere around there, especially when Taronga Zoo is just down the road. Thinking of Taronga Zoo, I must pay another visit, as the last time I was there, was on a school excursion when I was 5! I do remember that there were giraffes and a koala, but I’m sure there’s more animals there than that and I’m getting side-tracked.
Middle Head, its history and military usage is fascinating. Much has been preserved as National Parks are now responsible for the area. What could be better than spending a day in a beautiful National Park that’s located right in the middle of Australia's biggest city!
The Disappearing Gun Emplacement
As with much of Australian history, it starts with the aborigines. Middle Head is no exception. If you're looking for an amazing place to live, with beautiful beaches and stunning views, you can't go wrong here. Whilst it’s not entirely clear which tribe based themselves on the headland, the Camaragal (Cam-mer-ray-gal) lands took in a signification area of Mosman and North Sydney. Hence the suburb Cammeray!
After settlement and before Fort Denison was built, a fort was built on the southern side of headland next to Obelisk Beach as a means of providing early warning for the colony when ships entered the harbour and to surprise them with a shot over the bow if they had hostile intent. However, due to the distance from the colony, it was soon abandoned. Today however, this is a nudist beach, which can still provide an equally shocking a surprise to passing ships.
In 1815, with Governor Macquarie in charge, busily building the colony and naming things after himself, he granted Middle Head to Bungaree, an aboriginal who accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia. Named the ‘Chief of Broken Bay’ and the ‘King of Port Jackson,’ Bungaree was a colourful character who was an important intermediary between the European Settlers and the local aborigines. Whilst it was probably a noble gesture for Governor Macquarie to ‘give’ Bungaree this land, which he probably already ‘owned,’ this quickly fell apart, as the soil on Middle Head isn’t much good for farming.
The site was soon abandoned until its (no apostrophe!) rebirth as a military fort in 1853 when NSW was getting worried about the prospects of being invaded by Russia. In terms of success, this fort was amazing! It protected us from invasion by Russia right throughout the Crimean war. We won’t dwell on the fact that Russia didn’t even bother sending out anyone to New South Wales, because that would ruin a good story.
Main Middle Head Fort
Middle Head as a fort was of great strategic importance. As the headland is positioned right in the middle of North Head and South Head, you can see and track everything that comes into Sydney harbour. The fort had several key areas and gun placements built throughout and many of the remnants can still be seen. Over the years, the fort was upgraded for each subsequent war in which Australia was involved. The cannons changed to artillery pieces and at the height of its military use, it was covered by 71 guns. The most important period of operation however, came in World War II when the Japanese posed a real threat to Australia and managed to get two midget subs through the anti-submarine net and into Sydney Harbour.
The military base on Middle Head was finally abandoned after the end of the Vietnam War. It was then handed over to National Parks in 1979 and has been cared for and developed into a wonderful natural and historic tourist attraction. The added bonus that we had during this excursion, was to see the air ambulance conducting training exercises on and around the headland. It was awesome to see them doing a moving boat rescue exercise as well as landing and taking off right in front of us. Whilst I can’t guarantee that you will have the same amazing experience with a helicopter, you can be assured that a trip out to Middle Head is well worth it to explore the fascinating geography and history of such an important site in the development of Sydney. If you’re not feeling up to guiding this yourself, give National Parks a call and talk to them about school options.
Broadcast From the Snow!
This week, I'm trying something new, but keeping with the snowsports theme. Broadcasting to you from the Australian Snowy Mountains!
Check it out here: School Trip - Alpine Risks
This is just a quick video on a few risks when taking a school group to the snow. These aren't all the risks you must consider, but some very important ones all the same!
For an awesome guide to snow safety make sure you head over to:
These guys are the industry leaders for alpine safety, so make sure you follow their recommendations when planning and running trips to the snow, to ensure that your snowsports trips are safe and fun for everyone!
GovHack 2016 - The Event
Over the weekend, I was involved in GovHack 2016 in Canberra, which was hosted by Canberra Grammar School. GovHack, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a collaborative international competition sponsored by government and businesses that focuses on how to better use the huge collection of around 10,000 government data sets publicly available. There was a huge range of prizes for different categories of solutions. A cynical view would be that it’s the government finding a cheap way to solve the problems that big departments aren’t agile enough to solve themselves. However, a better view is that the government is serious about reshaping the economy in a way that promotes innovation and understands just how tenacious and innovative Australians are when it comes to building things that do stuff! (Ok, NZ is in the competition as well, but I’m kinda biased).
Friday Kickoff Night
Friday night 6pm was the kick off, with the briefing and the announcement of the various prizes and goals. I was a bit worried when most people appeared to be in well-organized teams and were walking in with huge screens and their own computer servers tucked under their arms! I thought I’d be left to fend for myself and the idea of trying to do a project alone is just plain crazy. It simply doesn’t work! You need a team with a diverse skill set who can imagine, problem solve, build and present! Without unique individual skills to make up the team, you’re going to really struggle with the complexity of this sort of challenge.
Luckily when I went to the team signup area, I met Pin and Alec, who were both tech experts in search of a business/presenter type! Well hey, that’s me! :) a fantastic start to the team challenge. With such friendly people. We were then joined by Will who completed the team with his great technical and problem solving skills. With our team ready to go, now the biggest challenge of all… Working out what to do?
Team Work Space
This is probably one of the hardest things, even for for a team of innovative and creative people. There’s a ton of data sets, all with their own opportunities and own problems. I know my best creativity happens whilst going up ski lifts, but despite the Canberra cold, there was no snow in sight. So plan B! We brainstormed for over an hour trying to work out what to do and what data could be used to do it. Eventually, Will and Alec suggested buses and Pokémon! What? I hear you mumbling. What the hell is that all about? Well it’s a natural mashup! Trust me on this! The idea for the app was to take the live transport data from Canberra’s Action buses and overlay it on the street map so you could see exactly where every bus is and watch it get closer as it approaches your stop. On top of this, we decided to overlay the map with all of the Pokémon Go stops and gyms around Canberra! Makes perfect sense! Pin added the local wildlife habitats as well for an additional tourist element to get more people using our buses.
Buses, Wildlife & Pokémon, Oh My!
The remainder of the evening was spent fleshing out the idea, how it would work and what we needed to do for it. With the idea solidly in hand, we decided to come back to it in the morning to get started on the build.
The next day we got stuck into the project. Each of us worked on a discrete component for which each of us had a special skill. The coding talk for me was understandable, but seeing everyone typing and coding on the screen made my head spin slightly! I spent the day focused on researching ACT buses and the wider social issues surrounding public transport usage in Canberra! I then drew out some statistics and evidence to support the business case for the app and complied it all ready to present it. I also did some mock up images of the Action Pokébus, which was fun!
The Concept Taking Shape
It was a long day and we finished after dinner, which was noodle boxes. I have to say, the catering for the event was awesome. Canberra Grammar did a fantastic job of food, drinks and snacks to keep everyone going the whole weekend. I managed to eat waaaayyy too many Oreos and now I desperately need to go for a run. However, back to the event! We finished for the evening with parts of the platform built and the research complete! We were all ready for a good night’s rest, before the final stretch in the morning.
Sunday morning started with a similar pace to Saturday, with each of us working on our own parts of the project. As the day progressed, it all started to gel together with the software being finalised and my speech almost done. I revised it several times before I was happy with the script and then we quickly shot it as the battery on the camera quickly died. We literally had two takes and that was it. No more battery, no other chance to refine.
The last hour was frantic, stressful and exciting all at the same time! After recording the pitch, Will edited it and threw in all of the info and screenshots to demonstrate the platform in action! I could see the clock ticking down as I typed faster and faster to update each of the details for the submission. Meanwhile, the team finished editing the video and made sure the app was running ready for the submission! Just as we were about to upload everything and submit our project, we got a blank screen… The GovHack server went down! We were literally moments from submission!!! You know that sinking feeling when you’re trying to catch a bus and you see it driving off, well that’s what it felt like. Thankfully, it affected everyone else and we were able to submit our work once they got the server up and running again!
Frantic Final Touches
As we waited for the two umpalumpas somewhere in an unlit basement to restart the government servers, we had a chance to just chat and do a bit of a debrief on the weekend. It was interesting going around the table and finding out what the most challenging and reward parts were for each of the team.
The great thing for me about the weekend was being way outside my comfort zone. Even though I understood in general terms what was going on, I can’t code and this made me feel uncomfortable and totally reliant on the others to build the idea. However, their skills were amazing and the benefit of this was the fact that each member of the team had a strength in a different area. Together, it was a fantastic meshing of skills. So in the end, rather than feeling out of my depth, I was able to contribute through my own unique set of skills and provide the business case and marketing pitch for the platform.
Here it is Pitch: Go Go Bus Pitch
It was a fantastic team with which to work and such an amazing opportunity to have been part of GovHack 2016. The technical skills, mashed up with problem solving, teamwork and presentation skills, make this a must do for any budding problem solver. The atmosphere and energy was great and something I would love to do again.
With the servers up, project done and delivered, all I can say now is that that was one awesome weekend.
Transfeed Team 2016