What's This Risk Thing?
What's this risk management thing anyway? Taking students outside the rigid structures of the school ground, can often introduce a higher level of risk than what is found at school. Therefore, there needs to be a level of planning, preparation, and proactive situational awareness to help you reduce risk and run safe programs when outside the school gates.
Risk management is essentially exploring all of the various hazards you may encounter when you're out on a school excursion or activity and looking at the likelihood and the impact that these would have if they did occur when you were out with a group of students. Essentially, you're looking at all the things that could go wrong and how you apply controls to ensure that they either don't go wrong or reduce the impact of them if they do.
School excursions and activities are great ways for students to learn. So much value can be had from learning from real-world experiences that can't be found or replicated in the classroom. It's a great way for them to understand all sorts of aspects of the real world, try new things, push their comfort zones, and see and experience so many different things about relationships, the world, and how it all interacts with each other and works. The fact is doing anything in life involves a certain level of risk. However, if we look at our own lives, the way in which we approach risk ourselves is quite different from the way in which we have to approach risk from an institutional point of view, where we have a duty of care over other people.
What are some key considerations you should make for the management of risks on school excursion and activities?
Where are you going and what are you doing? The context is very important, This establishes a lot of the kinds of hazards you will encounter and dictate how you should approach them. For example, a school trip to the zoo, will have vastly different risks from an international music tour.
Who are you taking with you? The behaviours, attitude and group dynamics of both staff and students has a significant impact on the management of risk. Do your staff members have the right training, skills and understanding of where they’re going, what they’re doing, what their responsibilities are and how to make good decisions to address any concerns which may arise? Do your students know what’s expected of them? Do they understand the activities and aims of the program? Are they the right fit for the programs? Are there any allergies, medical concerns, pastoral concerns or dietary needs?
Equipment? What sort of clothing and equipment will be required for this school excursion? What additional safety equipment, such as first aid kits are needed? What do you actually need in your first aid kit?
Communications? Do the parents and school admin understand the risks and how you’re managing them in the context of where you’re going and who you’re taking? Being transparent within the school and with parents is vitally important in the risk management process. Disclosure is an important part of the overall risk and school safety strategy.
Whilst there is far more to a risk assessment than just these few basic components, if you start exploring and considering each of these, you’re well on the way to building an effective risk management plan for any sort of school excursion you’re running.
School Snowsports Fitness
Welcome to the Xcursion Risk Tip. These tips are designed to save you time, save you money, reduce risk and improve safety for all of your programs.
Today we are going to look at snow sports. Snow sports are a great way to spend a week or to spend an entire season with students developing their skills and also building those relationships and taking on an activity which is fun, engaging and something completely different. However, there are a number of risks involved in snow sports.
Today we are going to just look at fitness. The level of fitness significantly impacts your students’ ability to ski or snowboard well and if students are turning up unprepared and unfit, this can lead to a much higher risk and prevalence of injury than if your students are turning up that have done some level of training and fitness leading into the activity.
Even if you are going away for a week and especially if you are going away for just a week they still need to turn up fit and ready for snow sports activities. They are using muscles and sort of moves that are quite unique and quite different to what they would usually do in any other sport. So, a level of core training, strength training and flexibility is critical to help them reduce the risk of injury for any snow sports.
By doing this for your staff and your students for your snow sports programs, this means that you can reduce the risk of injury so they are memorable and they are fun times at the snow for you and your entire group.
Welcome to the Xcursion Risk Tips. These tips are designed to save you time, money, reduce risk, and improve safety for all of your programs. Today, we're going to look at students cooking. Phew, yes you probably just reel back from some certain experience that you've had out on a program where our kids cooked you something. Now, I've had both ends of this spectrum. Some kids well, you really wouldn't trust what they cook or what they put in that meal. However, other kids can cook so well. It is great to see them get involved and actually cook something.
I've come across schools and I've come across teachers who are really hesitant to allow kids to cook. But seriously, at what point do you let go and enable kids to take ownership and take responsibility and do something they really want to try? This is something that not a lot of kids get to do at home. So the opportunity to cook whilst on camp is really important and they love to try and impress you with their meals. There are a couple of risks involved in this and a couple of hazards. The two main ones that we want to look at are knives and fires.
Firstly, it's the preparation of the meal. It's cutting up everything on the cutting boards and making sure that they don't cut the veggies and themselves with the blunt knives. Now more often than not, you're going to find blunt knives on camps because you can't trust anybody with a sharp knife. Unfortunately, with a blunt knife, they're more risk of causing injuries, than sharp knives. Because the pressure that's applied to a blunt knife is far greater than the pressure you need to apply with a sharp knife. So at least have your knives slightly sharpened so that they're not totally blunt and can cause really really bad injuries.
One student I had on one of my programs, he managed to stab himself in the webbing of his hand with a knife. How we managed to do that? I don't know. But he was cutting up the vegetables and just came up to me and said, "Oh Sir, Sir I've cut myself." I was like, "How, how did you do that?"
I mean, it was an impressive cut and we managed to apply pressure and patch it up ok. But I was astounded. But basically what he had done was he had pushed so much pressure on the knife, flicked it off the vegetable and skew it himself in the hand. Now that's one part of it. You really do need to monitor and supervise effectively when the kids are cutting things up.
Once they're all cut up, the next thing is the fire. Or most likely you're going to get something a Trangia. Now a Trangia for those who don't know, is this little stove and it's got an alcohol burner in the middle, and you pop it in and put your pot on and away it goes. Many schools I've worked at, many programs I've seen to begin with, didn't actually contain these fires or didn't monitor this effectively. This is the next really critical hazard that you need to manage effectively for when students are cooking. So what you want to do is set up what we call it a Trangia circle. Now a Trangia circle can be done just with a small bit of rope and you put a big circle right around and the pots go in there, nobody or nothing else goes in there and your fuels go well away from where you are. So with that in mind that you have your contained cooking circle, and you only limit the number of kids near the cooking circle. You don't need three kids cooking in one pot. You need one student cooking in one pot. So, limit the numbers around the cooking circle and actively monitor this. Don't cook your own dinner at this point in time.
One great solution is get one of the kids to cook. This has worked many many times that I've often had a lot of student meals because they've offered to cook for me. At this point in time, you don't want to be cooking because you need to be supervising what's going on and monitoring that fire circle and monitoring the way in which it's being conducted. This is critically important to reduce the risk of burns and scalds, which are some of the highest numbers of injuries that you get when you have kids cooking on programs. So you monitor that. They cook you dinner and you get to stand around drinking a cup of coffee whilst you watch them cook your dinner. What's not to like about that?
One of the problems I've seen is when staff are cooking their own dinners is that they don't have that level of supervision. They become too focused on their own meal and at the end of the day, you're the leader, you're looking after these kids, you can eat later. So, use that opportunity to try some kids cooking and that the reaction that you get when they cook something for you and you are able to share a meal with them is really good and it's all part of that bonding experience. It's all part of that journey of a camp. That way you can develop rapport with your kids in such a unique setting.
So two main risks for cooking with kids, it's not the taste, it's not the flavor, it's not what they cook although sometimes they can burn things and it's horrible, but we won't go there. But the two main hazards are cutting with knives, prepping meals, and also the cooking circle or the Trangia circle. If you can effectively supervise these two, then you've seriously reduced the risk of something going wrong on your program, and the kids are learning from this experience by cooking meals for themselves.
Risk Management By Osmosis
Risk management in schools is an interesting and concerning problem. There’s nothing in teachers’ training which helps them to understand the role and responsibilities of running activities outside the school grounds. In years gone by, this wasn’t too much of a worry as most teachers weren’t involved with the sheer volume of additional programs, excursions, activities and overseas trips which now form part of a normal year at school.
The only education that teachers seem to have in this is that at some point, they’re involved in a trip somewhere doing something and rather than having any actual training to be able to manage and help run whatever it is in which they’ve now found themselves involved, they’re entirely reliant on learning something about what they should be doing through osmosis. The expectation that they absorb something at some point in time which then magically enables them to manage risk in a well planned and professional way is ridiculous in the extreme, yet that’s basically the industry standard.
Sadly, osmosis is a rather unreliable means through which people gain even a decent baseline level of any sort of skill, let alone risk management. It’s like letting your English teachers learn about a text for the first time as they read it with (or slightly behind) the class, or your maths teacher, teach themselves by reading a chapter ahead and asking the other teachers a few questions about ‘this whole algebra thing.’
Parents would be horrified and continually write angry emails to the school if they knew their children were being taught by teachers who literally knew nothing about their subject areas. Why is nobody upset when that same lack of skill and understanding is being applied to situations which place students at real risk or harm?
Why is risk management training such an afterthought? Why do schools rely on osmosis for one of the most critical things required to keep their students safe? Is it because they don’t care? Most likely not. Is it because it’s too expensive? Hardly, as most training days are less than $500 a day and the cost to investigate even a minor issue is viciously expensive and can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Could it be something that they think they can contract out and not worry about because it’s now someone else’s problem. Perhaps they think they can do this, yet ultimately, they simply can’t contract this out and absolve themselves of any responsibility.
If only there were an easy answer to this. There is some level of naivety in all of this and what’s commonly known as unconscious incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you don’t know it, then how can you be expected to do something about it? Unfortunately, this is not considered a reasonable or acceptable defence when something goes wrong. It just makes you look more idiotic than before and even a mediocre barrister will maul the hell out of a teacher who tries to use this. The ‘I didn’t know’ defence has sadly been used in coronial inquests and no amount of ignorance has ever brought a deceased child back nor mended any shattered lives.
So if training isn’t too expensive and it’s not too hard to do, why is it overlooked? I’ve often had the reply from teachers ‘I’m just a classroom teacher, so I don’t need to do anything like that.’ Yet these same classroom teachers are taking students down town, interstate and overseas on study tours, sports trips and cultural immersion programs. Just because you’re not going white water canoeing in South America, doesn’t mean you, your students and the school are not exposed to a huge range of potential risks from cultural misunderstandings, to political and social risks and poor student behaviour, just to name a few. Every time teachers leave the school gates with a group, they’re responsible for the safety and well-being of that group and like the English teacher reading the text as they go, teachers regardless of subject expertise, should not be out on a trip, anywhere, doing anything and making it up as they go.
In my twenty odd years in education (some more odd than others), the overwhelming trend has however been to allow totally inexperienced and untrained teachers to take groups out and make stuff up as they go. This is wrong and at the end of the day, luck always runs out and situations like this will always end badly. Rather than rely on the magical fairy tale land of risk management through osmosis and relying on making stuff to as you go, it’s time to up the ante on teacher training and enable those keen and enthusiastic teachers who want to improve student learning through amazing real world experiences, to undertake some real risk management training and properly build their skill-set around good risk management practices so that every trip on which they go, is a memorable one for their students for all the right reasons.
In today’s risk tip we’re going to cover the copy & paste methodology for risk management. Now this is often used by people who really are not sure what they are doing or they are really time poor and it’s an easy way to get a job done. I do understand this and it’s something I have done before as well and it’s something that I have come unstuck on before as well and really learned from those mistakes.
So it’s really important even though we know your time poor that you really do look at some standing risks which can easily be copied and entered in to your risk assessment so you don’t have to recreate everything from scratch. But then you also have your dynamic and variable risks and this is where copy and paste comes completely unstuck.
You end up just copying and going, bang that will suit! It was last year’s. We are doing the same thing this year. However, the variable risks such as your people risks, your environmental risks have come change completely from one year to the next.
The group dynamics can be vastly different and the group dynamics for the group that you are taking this time could actually be the biggest risk and if you haven’t reviewed and assessed that effectively and you are just using last year’s then that’s where you can really come unstuck.
So be careful in what you’re copying and pasting. In many ways those standing risks or those standard risks which do not change there is no worries with that at all. You can review them each year as part of your continuous improvement process but generally speaking they are ok to do. However really your dynamic variable risks you must assess each and every time to ensure that you are running great programs for your students that are memorable for all the right reasons.