Friday, July 8, 2016

Outdoor Education Reduces Injury Risks

Hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, caving, and sailing, etc. why do people place themselves at risk to be involved in such activities?

To venture into the outdoors inherently increases the risk of physical injury, compared with say an armchair seat in front of the telly.

The outdoors is many things to many people, some are pure adrenaline freaks looking for that “high” which completing a difficult challenge has to offer. Others simply wish to get away from it all, relax and share some precious moments in their own Eden.

For most people, however, the real attraction of the outdoors is a synthesis of many disciplines. In the very real light of several recent mishaps, I feel it appropriate that an article such as this be made available to the general public.

As long as we have a free democratic society and people have the right to choose where and how they spend their recreational time, we will also continue to have “accidents” in the outdoors. I feel it impossible to separate adventure, challenge and danger; they go hand in hand.

What one can do, however, is minimize the danger element, and try to eliminate the risk emanating from inadequate experience and/or equipment.

Spreading slowly through our education systems, Outdoor Education in schools is heading students in the right direction particularly with relation to methods and techniques of safely appreciating the outdoors.

The training expected of Outdoor Educators in this state is second to none; leadership award schemes are offered in canoeing, (in land and sea), bush walking, sailing and snow skiing to mention but a few. For a teacher to gain any or all of these awards is both highly time consuming and demanding. Those who elect to do so are after the experience and leadership ability, not a piece of paper.

With all this happening in schools and institutions there remain many who either call for 100 percent safe activities, or we take our children camping anyway.

Outdoor Education, as I understand it, offers students a diverse yet sequential series of activities designed to challenge, stimulate and invite further investigation. This must incorporate an element of potential danger integrated into a controlled framework.

This 100 percent safety is possible, albeit at great costs. We should end up with a series of “Mickey Mouse” recreational activities which hold such little challenge, they would inevitably fold.

The training, and especially, management of groups on ski-slopes, a bush walking trail or perhaps a canoe expedition place many real demands upon a leader. There is little we can do to substitute for experience, both leadership and intimate knowledge of the proposed framework, but what happens if that framework changes. How can we prepare for that situation?

One possible answer is to implement the excellent St John's casualty care, critical incident type role-playing exercises.

It is during these critical incident exercises that parents who accept the invitation to join us, frequently comment on the misconceptions or fallacies which still surface among junior students. It is this situation which concerns me greatly, yet I feel our first-aid educators are making inroads.

Developing leadership qualities and problem solving skills in a given situation are high on our list of priorities. Before we take any group into the outdoors, we suggest the following points need to be answered:

  • The proposed route carefully chosen with the ability, experience of the group and leaders.
  • Prevailing, expected weather conditions.
  • Time and distance between campsites, alternatives, rest stops. 
  • Contingency plans, each night to have 1 or 2 alternative sites, emergency evacuation plans, routes out. 
  • Who is the nominated medical expert? Are others capable of helping or taking over?
  • Have you left a proposed route etc with a responsible person in case you are late, if not a note to Rangers etc on car windscreen?
  • Honestly, could you cope if your framework collapsed?
  • Are all party members adequately equipped, clothed and waterproofed? 
  • Never go out alone - or accept the repercussions to your safety. 
  • Hypothermia kills. Looking back over most of our recent mountaineering, canoeing, walking tragedies, the loss of body core temperature more often than not is the real killer.
  • Notify the local police of proposed activity, intended route, time of departure, return etc, where your vehicle is left and registration no.

Setting off on a pleasant afternoon's stroll or paddle with a gentle breeze and blue skies is a great experience, being forced to spend a night or two in sub zero temperatures (remember wind-chill factor) is a life threatening experience. Simply by carrying an emergency thermal space blanket (no larger than a packet of cigarettes) and notifying someone where you were going, probably would be enough to make the difference between survival and death.


Remember an element of danger and pursuing outdoor activities do go hand in hand. Real accidents sometimes happen, more often than not though they are most avoidable. Thorough preparation, research of the area, speaking to the locals regarding prevailing weather patterns, carrying equipment for the worst possible option and leaving your intended route plan with someone responsible. Enjoy the outdoors, the spiritual and emotional rewards to be gained are great, but please think and come back alive.


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