Risk and Benefit in Outdoor Learning
We believe in the positive aspects of undertaking challenges in a wide
range of activities and experiences in the outdoors.
One of the key foundations of the Outdoor Learning approach is the
intentional acceptance of both the benefits of undertaking activities in
the outdoors and the potential risks of doing so. Challenges might be
physical and/or psychological and may include real and/or perceived risk
for the participants where real and often immediate consequences can
lead to powerful and highly memorable learning experiences.
Leaders of outdoor learning experiences have a 'duty of care' to
participants which is to take ‘reasonable' care, in any sort of situation
where harm might be ‘foreseen’ to occur to someone. Hazards need to be
identified and assessed, safety needs to be managed and risk minimised to
acceptable levels. The dynamic nature of changing conditions and needs (e.g.
individuals, group, terrain, weather, equipment, animals, etc.) present a
challenge for outdoor professionals who work autonomously in unknown or
complex or unpredictable or wild or remote outdoor environments away from
immediate help and direct line management.
Competent and adequately qualified staff, appropriate operating procedures,
risk-benefit assessments, first-aid provision, emergency procedures, etc.
are essential elements of a managed approach.
“Some risks are more ‘risky’ than others and many of the risks associated
with hazards in the outdoors are of the 'less likely' variety - otherwise
our splendid safety record would be strewn with accidents - which it is not.
Being able to assess the likelihood of risk and its bad consequences is a
key skill for leaders”
Ken Oglivie, Leading and Managing Groups in the Outdoors
Nothing Ventured... Balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors
aims to encourage readers to take a reasonable and proportionate
approach to safety in outdoor and adventurous settings, and to reassure
them that managing risks should not be a disincentive to organising
"The next generation is tomorrow’s workforce. Helping young people to
experience and handle risk is part of preparing them for adult life and
the world of work. Young people can gain this experience from
participating in challenging and exciting outdoor events made possible
by organisations prepared to adopt a common sense and proportionate
approach that balances benefits and risk. I support this publication for
the encouragement that it gives to everyone to adopt such an
Judith Hackitt CBE, Chair, Health and Safety Executive
Written by Tim Gill and published by the English Outdoor Council (2010),
the guide is a valuable tool in training teachers, youth workers,
instructors and other professionals in outdoor learning.
Risk Management Overview
from the Outdoor Education Advisors Panel National Guidance highlights key
management considerations and the following two stage risk management
Identify the potential benefits to be gained from an activity, and any
significant risks to the health and safety of those involved.
Plan and implement measures to reduce these risks as low as reasonably
practicable without losing the benefits, and use professional judgement
to decide whether, in order to gain the benefits the remaining risks are
Balancing Risks and Benefits in Outdoor Learning and Play
by Tim Gill is a summary of the key approaches to understanding how to
assess the risks and hazards, and articulate the benefits for children. It's
written for those taking children outdoors anywhere in the world, with
reference to some of the key evidence as to why this is the right approach.
It includes an
example Risk Benefit Assessment Form. A further
example Risk Benefit Assessment Form
is available from Play England.
Walking for Health
have a page of guidance on carrying out risk assessments of health walk
Leading and Managing Groups in the Outdoors by Ken Oglivie (2005)
includes a comprehensive chapter on the management of risk and using
risk-taking as a tool in outdoor learning. It also includes a useful list of
potential hazards to be considered: natural dangers, artificial dangers,
weather effects, time of year/day/night, faulty equipment, activity
specific, animals, vegetation, leader related, group related, individual
The Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA)
came into existence in April 1996 to ensure that activity providers follow
good safety management practices. The regulations (AALR, 2004) define four
broad groups of activities - caving climbing, trekking [moorland or above
600m] and watersports.
Licensing only applies to those who offer activities to young people under
the age of 18 years and who operate in a commercial manner. A licence is not
Voluntary associations offering activities to their members (eg scout
groups, local canoe clubs etc)
Schools and colleges offering activities only to their own pupils or
Activities where youngsters are each accompanied by their parent or
legally appointed guardian (this does not include teacher or youth
HSE guidance on managing risks and risk assessment at work
includes templates to help identify what could cause injury or illness in
your business (hazards); decide how likely it is that someone could be
harmed and how seriously (the risk); and take action to eliminate the
hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.