As a national organisation with a clear and enduring purpose to provide outdoor education to all young Australians, we aim to ensure challenging environments for our participants, with safety paramount in these environments. With tens of thousands of students on program with us each year, risk management is at the heart of everything we do. Our Risk Management team take a systems-based approach to managing and mitigating risk and work to embed best practices at each step of program preparation, delivery, and review.
We believe young people take strides in their development when negotiating a controlled level of risk through outdoor education.
Risk management describes how we manage hazards and communicate about associated risks. Managing risk is focused upon a shared outcome to prevent or reduce adverse impacts to organisational and client goals. Through risk management, we understand rock climbing involves the risks of gaining height off the ground - a factor to be managed in order to maintain safety in the event of a fall. Analysing, understanding and being aware of the risks means we can enjoy the values gained from climbing, with a level of safety not outweighed by the risk.
Risk mitigation is part of a risk management strategy; this identifies what measures will be taken before, during, and after interacting with the risk, reducing the likelihood of any potential negative impact, for example, injury or harm.
The Outdoor Education Group's approach to safety and risk is informed by our extensive experience in the sector and by staying up to date on research and the current understanding of safety and risk.
In working with leaders in the field of Human Factors and Sociotechnical systems such as Dr. Paul Salmon, Dr. Clare Dallat and Dr. Scott McLean, we have access to new research, increasing our understanding of how incidents happen and what we can do to prevent them.
As an organisation working across 6 states and territories, we operate to ensure national guidance and localised compliance. The hazards present on a 5-day canoeing program in Victoria differ from a bushwalking and caving program in Western Australia or an urban adventure in the Greater Sydney area. While our underlying policies and procedures apply nationally, we work to ensure our on-the-ground practices are specific and relevant to each state.
The Outdoor Education Group's Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) process is one of the building blocks of our risk management practices. The HIRA is applied to every program and takes into account the specific needs of the students and staff on the program, such as medical history, dietary requirements and the activities being conducted.
Through the HIRA, we look at the possibility and consequence of a hazard or risk event and apply controls to reduce the likelihood of an adverse outcome to an acceptable level. We realise this through applying our risk threshold and review using our risk matrix for all activities.
Team members in the field are conducting dynamic risk assessments as they go about their days – assessing conditions on the ground, the progress and wellbeing of the groups, and how those may interact and change the thresholds of the situation.
We mitigate risks by taking actions to reduce the likelihood or consequence of a hazard or risk. For example, we wear helmets to reduce the likelihood of serious head injury whilst cycling. We run skills sessions with our participants, no matter their experience, to assess and increase their riding skills. We have systems by which we navigate a group to reduce the likelihood of collisions or getting lost.
We eliminate and avoid risks by removing hazards from the equation. In the event of severe weather, we move our campsite out of the fall zone of all trees, or we will cease paddling, climbing, cycling etc.
We assess and may accept risk, based on the specific scenario in accordance with our organisational risk matrix. Field team members will carry out a dynamic risk assessment and decide, for example, whether crossing a river is safe only once they have seen it in its current condition. Crossing the river may be assessed as medium to low risk based on river level, group capability, temperature and time of day.
We transfer and communicate the risk by calling our Coordinators, the Field Duty Manager or the Field Risk team to further clarification or a sense-check. We monitor and review feedback on risk incidents and thresholds to ensure measures in place remain responsive and proactive to changing risk parameters and environments.
The Field Duty Manager function is shared between managers across our Outdoor Learning Directorate and our Risk Management team, providing a 24-hour support function for all programs and forms part of the emergency response systems and support when programs are in the field. The Field Duty Manager functions as a conduit of information in and out of the field; they monitor environmental conditions and factors, provide updates and information to the field, collect and collate information and support those who are directly supporting our participants.
Our programs are shaped specifically to ensure they match the cohort’s challenge and skill level. Consideration is given to the location and time of year to understand how environmental factors may impact the program, for example, heat in February, potential snow in July, higher rainfall during winter and spring.
We carry out pre-program checks regarding pertinent medical information and adjustments needed for staff and participants with varied needs. Our catering team allocates menus in line with the groups' dietary requirements.
Most camps and journey programs have a Course Coordinator who oversees the programs on the ground, offers feedback and coaching to staff, and ensures activities are conducted in line with standard operating procedures.
Led by our HIRA, many of the controls and measures we apply during our programs are uniformed with a few variances specific to each context.
Our centre-based camps are maintained by dedicated team members onsite who manage facilities and prepare the equipment and site required for each program.
In preparation for a journey program, our team orders, prepares and packs the equipment needed, ensuring it is appropriate for the specific location, time of year and length of program.
For expeditions extending from 10 – 30 days, many additional variables and emergent risks are considered, starting with the program's design. Expeditions are mapped out to give participants, school staff and team members a progression in the level of activity, as well as the required amount of rest to continue over a long period. Participating students will often complete additional preparation and practice trips prior to the main expedition. Access points are reviewed to ensure our team are able to receive resupply items.
The Outdoor Education Group provide training and onboarding for all new team members to ensure practices are in line with our standard operating procedures.
Our Outdoor Educators are provided with a Field Practices Manual, which is updated annually to include any updates to activity briefing or safety practices and relevant standard operating procedure information.
Our team of Outdoor Educators have a predetermined skillset/training level. Depending on the activity, they may have a support specialist assisting them (as with caving or white water rafting) by providing technical skill support.
The Outdoor Education Group have specific triggers for changes to programs in response to weather; these are based on warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology and Government notification systems such as Emergency VIC and Emergency WA.
With the Field Duty Manager monitoring weather, as well as the Course Coordinator on the ground with each program, we can make proactive plans for periods with high levels of predicted rainfall which may include adjustment, relocation or cessation. Our Outdoor Educators also have tools and communication devices enabling them to communicate if the conditions on the ground are changing rapidly.
In the event of a Severe Weather Warning, we have protocols impacting campsite selection and tent placement, travel on bodies of water and rockfaces. We also have a specific protocol for lightning.
Groups in the field receive twice-daily communications relaying the fire danger rating, any active or upcoming Total Fire Bans and fire activity in the area. Fire Danger Ratings consider temperature, humidity, winds, and fuel loads - we have a tool triggering different responses as the Fire Danger Rating escalates. The tool involves collating environmental data from government sources and any other relevant agency (Parks, CFA) and determines if and when a program needs to relocate or cease. We also have an air quality tool if a program area is affected by smoke.
If a fire occurs within 50km of a program, the Course Coordinator completes a fire tool and the Field Duty Manager conduct a specific assessment of a set list of factors to determine the need to adjust/relocate or conclude the program.
The Outdoor Education Group has COVID-19 control measures outlined within our program Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment processes for each program, including social distancing, hygiene, wearing of masks based on government requirements, food preparation, and equipment cleaning. These measures apply to all programs.
At our centre-based camps, we follow COVIDSafe plans in line with state legislation and health orders and directions and have QR code tracking at our sites based on state requirements.
The Outdoor Education Group is the first organisation in Australia to apply for and be accredited with The Association of Experiential Education. Attaining accreditation was a 2-year process requiring a review of our policies, practices and procedures against more than 280 standards, a self-assessment study totalling several hundred pages and an external audit from three leading industry experts. To be certified, The Outdoor Education Group also had to demonstrate we can maintain those standards and present for recertification every 3 years.
The Outdoor Education Group has been part of the Australian outdoor industry for over 36 years. We have strong ties to state-based peak bodies, such as Outdoors Victoria, Outdoors NSW and The Outdoor Council of Australia.
We have been involved in consultation with The Outdoor Council of Australia and their work on The Australian Adventure Activity Standards. While these are not enforceable standards within the industry, they do reflect Standard Practice and we have aligned our own practices, internal skill sets and program processes to these frameworks.
The Outdoor Education Group has strong and long-standing relationships across the education sector, land management agencies and emergency services. As such, we remain current in our understanding of new risks, managing known risks and safeguarding for future areas of emerging risks.
We maintain our standards by monitoring through the use of feedback systems across the organisation, allowing us to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. We perform internal and external audits to compare work as imagined versus work as done. The continuous review of incident data and trends also provide us further insights into the effectiveness of our operations and processes and allow for ongoing improvement
A continual and intense focus on risk management procedures and research underpins every program with The Outdoor Education Group. Partnering with The Outdoor Education Group allows you to access and benefit from our risk management practices, and provides you with an easily implemented end to end solution ensuring powerful student outcomes.