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What Safety Precautions Do We Need To Take?

By Don MacDowall

The physical and emotional safety of the participants should be paramount. Your group should feel safe because the buildings, surrounds and activities are safe. Your group should feel safe because they have confidence that someone has thought about leadership and first aid. Importantly the families at home may need to be reassured that the entire event is safe.


You need a critical and thoughtful eye and look at a venue in the light of your particular group. An easily accessible lake poses a significant issue for a group of families with toddlers but may be no issue for a group of older adults. Some disabilities may require special precautions. Be clear about any particular needs for your group – clearly defined boundaries or off limit areas, 24 hour phone access, special site rules and plan accordingly.


Fire protection, electrical fittings, lighting, water quality, hygiene kitchen and toilet cleanliness and so on are areas covered by local health and building regulations and you should expect these areas to be obviously safe – if in doubt, ask the manager. The Australian Camps Association recommends the voluntary accreditation program – Australian Tourim Accreditation Program (ATAP) which covers these areas and more.


People are more likely to behave safely when they understand their circumstances. An established routine, such as meal times, lights out and activity times, helps participants settle into different surroundings. Discipline is best if it arises from within the individual or group. This is most likely to happen if people understand issues and the effect on others and have input into formulating codes of behaviour. Staying up very late may have little effect on some, while others will have their concentration impaired the next day. What’s the impact on me, on the group and on the program?

A long list of apparently unconnected rules is likely to be ignored, forgotten or flaunted. Rules should be brief (what) and reasoned (why). Some rules need to be explained (and preferably developed with the group) before even leaving home. Other rules may be announced on arrival, while some can be given immediately prior to their specific application.

A rule on loud music, smoking or behaviour should be developed with the group in advance. Hazardous areas near the venue or restrictions on entrance to the kitchen are best explained on arrival. Rules for the beach walk or the abseiling are best given just prior to the event.

The rules, routine and discipline need not be harsh to be effective. The effectiveness stems from knowing the group and individuals and working with participants and other leaders to create a simple framework for acceptable behaviour.


Phone numbers and location of emergency services such as fire, doctor, hospital, police and ambulance should be provided by the venue or clearly posted where it’s available to all participants. You may need to have some back up transport in case you need to take some one to the doctor or hospital. If you need the services to come to you, remember they may have to travel considerable distance and will almost certainly not come as quickly as in the metropolitan area. You may also need to make provision or plan for emergencies peculiar to the group, depending on allergies, age or conditions of participants.

Accredited camps will be prepared and have developed emergency plans. The manager will know the local support, ease of access, likely response times and procedures in the event of an emergency. Assistance, back up and sometimes even highly skilled people may be close at hand. Discuss your needs before an emergency arises.


You need to have access to adequate first aid both at the venue and when you move offsite. Check with the venue if they supply a kit or if you have to bring it. Be clear about what it contains and who can use it.

You may find some one in your group has proper first aid training and be prepared to be responsible for caring for the minor ailments that may arise. They need to understand current first aid practices as techniques change (we no longer cut snake bites; we now restrict the use of aspirin with young people).

Courses and handbooks are readily available to give you confidence in first aid. Remember, the most common first aid needs are likely to be simple ones requiring a Band-aid, something to take away an itch, soothe a scratch or cool a sprain. Adequate quantities of these simple items need to be provided.

First aid organisations such as St John or Red Cross can advise you about the type of first ad training and equipment you should have.


You need to have adequate written information about the medical matters of all campers (Word – not a PDF 100KB) – including leaders. This allows the person responsible for first aid to be prepared and potential problems, such as allergic reactions, to be avoided.


If you’re going into the bush, go as a group, usually a minimum of four and let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return. You should be adequately prepared and equipped with proper clothing, footwear, first aid and maps and able to handle any small emergencies that arise.

If your group has little experience of the outdoors, remind them that the weather can be variable and ensure they have adequate protection against sun and wind and rain. Snakes are a commonly feared but generally a little seen part of the bush. Avoid long grass and wear adequate footwear (not thongs) in the bush.

Be alert to varying levels of fitness. Desk bound adults or some people with disabilities may not be accustomed to even sustained, light exercise. Know which participants are on regular medication. It may have side effects, such as drowsiness or dehydration, and they may need to take it with them on day trips.

The most important decision a prudent leader sometimes has to make is to postpone or cancel an event because of a change in weather or gear or staffing. Don’t be so committed that you can’t make a new assessment of the changed circumstances.


High fire danger can restrict the use of open fires, campfires and some BBQS. Be alert in summer to the local restrictions and observe them closely. Occasionally because of the weather conditions, a Total Fire Ban day will be proclaimed. This means no fire may be lit or allowed to remain alight in the open air.


Most activities have basic safety checks that need to be carried out by the venue. These include the condition of gear, provision of adequate safety equipment, correct storage and so on. The person responsible for the conduct of the activity – it may be an adult camper or it may be a site staff member – needs to be proficient in both the activity and the management of a group of participants. A champion canoeist isn’t necessarily the best person to teach canoeing skills or organise young people on the water.

Equipment standards and training change and your activity leaders need to be alert to these changes and advances. What was once considered ‘state of the art’ may now be ‘out of the ark’.

Safety, training and staffing ratios are often covered by specialist organisations or in guidelines produced for schools and groups. You should become familiar with these before you make an activity a part of your program. The information in these guidelines will also help you make judgements about the quality and condition of equipment but experience is an important commodity.

There are Adventure Activity Standards for many activities and the education department in each state will have information about preparation, ratios and supervision. Details are on the Australian Camps Association website


Outdoors WA

QORF Queensland Outdoor Recreation Federation

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development – Safety Guidelinges for Education Outdoors

Outdoors Victoria

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