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Choosing a safe outdoor adventure program

Along with the great outdoors and Mother Nature comes the unpredictability of many outdoor adventure programs.

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Bruises and scratches can be easy to come by, and the possibility of a broken bone is not unheard of. From animals, to weather, to rocky terrain, the source of adventure is often the same source of danger. However, when researching an outdoor adventure program for yourself or your children, how can you be sure that the program you choose is doing its best to prevent these kinds of injuries and illnesses?

Questions to ask

Choosing a safe outdoor adventure program for you or your child may seem daunting at first, but there are a few simple questions you can ask to learn more about the relative safety of specific programs. According to the St. Paul Cos. and Outward Bound USA, consumers should inquire about the following when evaluating a program:

  • History of the program: Find out how many years the program has been running, and how many people participate each year. The longer the program has been operating and serving a substantial number of participants, the better chance it has of being reputable.
  • Staff qualifications: Ask questions about how the staff is hired and trained. Does the program perform background checks on its employees, particularly staff working with children? Ask about staff experience, education, minimum qualifications, and the certifications required for them to be hired. What is the ratio of staff to participants? In general, a more experienced staff with higher credentials is more likely to deliver a safer program. A ratio of two staff to 10 participants is the norm for most activities.
  • References: Ask for the names of prior participants who can serve as references. Call them and ask them about the program. If references are not provided, or if the information provided by references is not favorable about the program, staff, equipment, food, or safety, consider another organization.
  • Accidents and injuries: Ask if there have been any fatalities or serious injuries, and how the programs track incidents. Is there a published report of incidents that you can review? Programs that document incidents and are forthcoming about accidents are better bets than those that don't. What does the program do to prevent accidents and injuries? Are instructors trained in such areas as CPR and First Aid?
  • Insurance: Ask if the program is insured and, if so, for what. Generally the minimum insurance required by Federal Land Management Agencies is $1 million in liability.
  • Professional associations: Ask if the program is accredited or is a member of a professional organization. Accreditation and membership in a professional association are positive signs that it is a good program.

The Outdoor Safety Initiative Risk Management Survey

The St. Paul Cos. and Outward Bound USA recently teamed up to conduct a survey on risks and safety systems that address these issues in outdoor adventure programs.

The outdoor adventure industry is voicing a clear need for improved safety-training resources and tools.

The No. 1 safety issue cited by adventure programs is transportation and driving. However, only 48 percent of respondents reported utilizing driver training and testing to mitigate transportation risks.

The survey goes on to cite that these programs have concerns about safety and are looking for ways to improve their safety-management programs. As the industry grows, the likelihood of accidents and injuries will increase for these adventure programs.

"The study results show a need for outdoor adventure programs to have better alignment between their safety concerns and their risk management systems," says Dr. Stacey Moran, industrial and organizational psychologist for the St. Paul Cos.

When program administrators were asked what kinds of additional resources would benefit their safety efforts, the most frequently cited response was judgment training for instructors, ranking above 14 other categories. However, programs reported they only "sometimes" provide such training as part of their professional development activities.

The Outdoor Safety Initiative Risk Management Surveys were mailed to CEOs and risk managers of more than 1,200 outdoor adventure programs, with nearly one quarter of the surveys completed and returned. The survey examined the programs' safety concerns, existing safety-management systems, accident histories, and program priorities for expanding safety initiatives and resources.

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