Identifying risks

To deal with risk in an activity, you must first identify the hazards. Having identified the hazards, you must then identify the causal factors which lead to those risks becoming a reality. Causal factors are dangers, and can be grouped into three key areas: people, equipment and environment. Some of the factors in these three areas which you as a leader need to consider include:

  • People—skills, knowledge, level of confidence, fitness, moods, fears, tiredness, experience.
  • Equipment—clothing, tents, skis, communication devices, ropes, vehicles.
  • Environment—weather, terrain, remoteness, snow conditions, shelter.

Accidents are possible from dangers in just one of these three areas, but an accident becomes much more likely when hazards from the three areas interact. As an example, consider a ski tour in steep terrain. A peril (or possible negative outcome) is a person falling unchecked into trees or rocks, and an assessment of some of the causal factors is shown in Table 6.1.

Table 6.1 Some causal factors for risk assessment on a ski tour in steep terrain
People hazardsEquipment hazardsEnvironment hazards
No experience in steep terrainSkis without metal edgesSteep icy slope
Unskilled in self arrestNo rope among party membersRocks, a cliff and a gorge below

As leader, if you are aware of all these hazards, you are in a position to assess the real risk present in this activity. You need to use your judgement, weighing all the factors. You must then decide whether to proceed (i.e. retain the risk); reduce the risk

(e.g. implement appropriate safety procedures); avoid the risk (e.g. change the routeor cancel the activity), or transfer the risk (e.g. effect insurance cover, have additional experienced guides involved on the trip) (Haddock 1993).

Most people who participate in outdoor activities do so to seek the positive experiences, although they generally also know there is some risk involved. As a leader, you have to find a balance between the difficulty of the activity, the skills and competence of both the individuals and the group as a whole, and the support services and facilities available to assist if something does go wrong.