Unfamiliar situations and new challenges form an integral part of outdoor education. When young people are presented with new challenges, they are given the opportunity for personal growth, exploration and to develop their risk perception and tolerance, as well as understanding how to manage risk. The Outdoor Education Group’s dedicated Field Risk team make vital contributions to the smooth running of our programs every day; they are always busy at work, but what does their work actually involve?
Introducing Gabrielle Darroch, The Outdoor Education Group's Risk Manager. Gabrielle joined The Outdoor Education Group seven years ago as, what was then known as a Senior Manager, then moved into a Risk Coordinator Role and last year, Gabrielle became our Risk Manager.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Initially, I check the news and weather conditions to understand any relevant or escalating incidents and the potential impacts on programs. The Risk team often respond to questions from the Outdoor Education department regarding skills sets, COVID-19 and policies and procedures. We speak to the Operations team about catering and equipment needs for specific situations and policy review and updates. Our team will communicate with the People and Culture and Communication teams weekly, whether it be seeking information or consulting them on training and process improvements.
Where medical information requires additional planning, the Risk team review the information as a part of the Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) process. We might receive information about a student or staff member with a preexisting medical condition and we work to ensure we can accommodate them; this may involve program alterations, support staff or a shortened program for the participant. Depending on the needs and abilities of the person, we may write a Needs Adjustment Report in line with our Inclusivity Policy, which is a detailed analysis to support meaningful inclusion in our programs.
Reviewing incident data is a vital part of my role. I review and sometimes investigate incidents, looking at the multiple interacting factors contributing to the occurrence, seeking trends in incident data and understanding how we can improve our systems and processes to help prevent incidents. We also collect data on near misses; when something occurs with no negative outcomes; these are especially important as we look at what prevents incident potential from becoming an actual incident.
As a team, we conduct audits out into the field to confirm our teams deliver programs in line with our training. We also check they are carrying the required equipment and clients know their correct use. We talk to the participants and school staff to determine what they recall about risk management practices and if they have received and retained information from safety briefings.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE RISK MANAGEMENT FIELD?
In Year 9, I went on a Mitchell River rafting and hiking journey with The Outdoor Education Group; it was a formative experience for me. I was amazed these incredible leaders were paid to be outdoors, and by the end of the week, I decided I wanted to work in outdoor education.
I studied Outdoor Education at university and became a secondary school teacher. I joined The Outdoor Education Group in 2014, its 30th year. At the anniversary celebration, I met the very same Outdoor Educator who led my group on the Mitchell River all those years ago.
When I first started at The Outdoor Education Group, I held a role known today as a Client Program Manager. I then joined the Risk team when the opportunity arose.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL INTEREST IN RISK MANAGEMENT
Basically, I am a bit of a nerd! I’m interested in systems-based thinking and human factors and how we can assess the systems within our organisation to create efficiencies and inform best practice. With my background in education, I am also interested in improving risk literacy – the way people evaluate risk and how that informs decision making.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS OF AN EFFECTIVE RISK MANAGEMENT TEAM MEMBER?
With constant change, flexibility and a growth mindset are key in Risk Management. Being open to receiving new information and adapting your way of thinking and approach is essential.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE DURING A CRITICAL INCIDENT?
Typically, I have filled the role of Field Operator, liaising with our field and response teams to manage the situation, gathering and verifying information. But this can vary depending on when and where in the country the incident happens. I may be called upon to act as the Incident Commander, the Second in Command or generally support the team’s efforts.
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR CAREER HIGHLIGHT?
Not long ago, a student with a serious preexisting medical condition was preparing to go on program. We worked hard with the family to provide their child with the same experience as their peers while ensuring we could support them if the condition arose whilst in the bush. Ultimately, the student completed a 5-day program and had a wonderful time.
I've been involved in some great organisation improvement projects. For example, our accreditation with the Association for Experiential Education included an 18-month internal review, leading to improvements of the systems supporting our staff. We've just completed a set of first aid protocols specific to The Outdoor Education Group in collaboration with the founder of Wilderness First Aid Australia and our consulting physician to understand best first aid practices for our team.