When 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
Business 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.
Outdoor 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.
However, 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.
So, 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?
Part 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.”
Not 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.”
There 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 whe