Risky business

you send your top team on a gruelling outdoor development course, you had
better do more than keep your fingers crossed that they all come back in one
piece. By Peter Willis

is about risk, which is one reason why employers like to send their managers on
outdoor development courses that feature a frisson of excitement in the form of
abseiling, kayaking or other forms of physical activity.

management development (OMD) activities also have proven value in teambuilding,
where the aim is to increase the level of trust among the team members. The
concept of trust becomes much more meaningful if there is an element of risk
attached. Being dependent on your colleagues, and having them depend on you, on
a high ropes course can be a powerful learning experience.

employers have a duty not to expose their staff to danger, and this duty of
care extends to all activities undertaken in the course of their employment –
including mountaineering or white-water rafting if they happen to form part of
a course.

how is the duty to avoid danger to be squared with the desire to introduce an
element of risk, and what steps can an employer take to check out the bona
fides of providers?

of the answer lies in the difference between perceived and actual risk. “Many
activities feel very hazardous, but actually they are very safe and
controlled,” explains Bob Barton, safety advisor to the Outward Bound Trust and
other organisations. “Like rock-climbing. It is very spectacular, but it’s
probably safer than driving up the motorway to the location.”

all OMD elements involve rugged, macho activities, but even building something
on the lawn, using bamboo canes, will have its hazards, observes Gary Horton,
safety officer at Brathay. “With many activities you cannot remove risk
completely, other than by not doing them. But we do aim to minimise risk – for
instance, if there is a risk of a fall, we make sure the landing area is soft.”

is no standard licensing system for adult outdoor centres. The Adventure
Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) scheme, introduced in the wake of the
1993 Lyme Bay canoeing disaster, applies only to centres catering for young
people. Adult-only centres cannot be licensed, and where a centre caters for
both groups, the licence cannot be taken as a guarantee of standards in adult

looking for adult courses have to rely on their own inspection, though it’s
remarkable how few take the trouble to do so, according to Nick Snook, health
and safety manager at the Leadership Trust.

that does is Volvo, which has used Lindley Training in Yorkshire for 20 years.
“We are a safety-oriented company – it flows right through the organisation,”
says Volvo’s technical training manager Kevin Perks. “The Lindley people are
continuously developing themselves, which is one reason we’ve continued with
them. The other is the numbers game. Varying the numbers by one or two can mean
needing another trainer. Lindley is very strict about its ratios.” His advice
to other training managers is, “Look for a safety-conscious supplier, competent
staff and a consistent message.”

assessing a provider, employers should check three main areas: systems,
equipment and people. Are the centre’s management systems – safety policy,
emergency procedures, risk assessment, reporting and review procedures – clear
and easily available for inspection? A good centre will have plenty of
documentation to show, and be happy to let potential clients browse through it
– though sometimes it may make initially alarming reading. At the Leadership
Trust, for example, the number of “reportable accidents” is increased due to
its policy of routinely taking people to casualty. This automatically defines
an accident, however trivial, as reportable. “Even so,” comments Nick Snook,
“our level is well below that of banking and finance, or libraries, museums and
art galleries.”

equipment look clean and tidy? It should be maintained rigorously and renewed
as required according to manufacturers’ instructions and standards bodies’

are the most important element. As a minimum they should hold qualifications of
the national governing body (NGB) of the activities they instruct.

safety should be more than procedural, says Bertie Everard, former ICI training
manager and now chairman of the Development Training Advisory Group which
includes nine of the leading outdoor providers. “It should be in the
bloodstream, and within the safety culture of the organisation. It is

should also extend beyond physical safety. The psychological safety of trainees
is increasingly being recognised as an important aspect, and an employer’s
responsibility. Karen Moore, an occupational psychologist at the Dove Nest
Group, advises examination into the background of instructors.

they are only NGB qualified, it’s easy for them to fail to appreciate the fears
of someone used to working at a desk, say, when they’re at the top of a cliff.
They need to be aware of the pressures subtly put on individuals by the group
to take part in something they’re not comfortable with. At what stage does the
instructor say, “You don’t all have to do it” – at the morning briefing or when
they get to the site? Or is the activity presented as something people can opt
into, rather than out of?”

the end of the day, though, the product on offer is controlled risk, leading to
an extension of the capabilities and the judgement of the employees. “The
paradox is that bad experience has the most profound effect on good judgement,”
says Bob Barton. Minor discomfort, even superficial scrapes and bruises are to
be expected, and staff should be warned accordingly. They should also undergo a
medical before they are allowed to attend.


cover is normally held by the centre, but employers should verify this. Public
liability is the norm, but specialists Perkins Slade recommend a gold-plated version
called civil liability which covers accidents arising out of specific
instructions, or from the omission of what might be seen to be common-sense
warnings. Imogen Clark, of employment law specialists Addleshaw Booth, advises
that an employer cannot be vicariously liable for an injury resulting from
negligence by trainers employed by a centre. However, there are other pitfalls
to be watched out for – like misbehaviour by employees. “The employer may well
be vicariously liable for any violence or sexual harassment resulting from an
evening’s relaxation after a hard day on the course – particularly if the
employer has provided any alcohol which may have exacerbated any issue.”

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