Risk management and planning

Good risk management depends upon good planning. Planning needs to be well established in the following three areas.

Personal preparation
The outdoor leader needs to have the appropriate experience, skills and fitness for the planned trip. The activity should be well within the capabilities of the leader (unless leading an experienced group on an exploratory-type trip). Personal planning refers to the need for the leader to have the appropriate level of experience and skills. These skills include navigation, campcraft, group leadership skills, first aid, environmental awareness, and understanding of possible hazards. Ski tour leaders must have skiing skills sufficient to cope with the terrain and conditions likely to be encountered. They must also be capable of assisting party members who may get into difficulties.

Specific trip planning
For any specific trip, the leader needs to identify the specific risks relevant to that trip. Once identified, the leader should develop a plan or strategy to enable the identified risks to be managed, in order to reduce the potential for loss to an acceptable level. One way to do this is to use a tool such as the ‘Risk Analysis and Management System’ advocated by Haddock (1993). This system provides a structure to identify the risks and causal factors in the key areas of people, resources and equipment, and environment. Once risks and causal factors are identified, strategies can then be developed to manage the risk associated with each causal factor. Areas worth considering include:

  • Party. Is the makeup of the party suitable for the planned trip (fitness, experience, age, party size, aims, cohesion)? Are there any known medical conditions that may be relevant, e.g. allergies, diabetes, prior joint problems, psychological conditions? Is there another party member capable to assist the leader if the leader is in trouble? Is there a second party member with group management skills?
  • Weather. Is it an appropriate time of year to visit? Is the area likely to be subject to blizzard, heavy rain, extreme wind, lack of water? Have you examined the most up-to-date forecast available? See Chapters 18 and 19.
  • Terrain. Are there scree slopes, cliffs, or old mining shafts in the area? Is the terrain too steep and rocky?
  • Vegetation. Is it appropriate to walk through the area (e.g. sphagnum bogs, scientific reference areas, pristine forest)? Are there large blackberry thickets? Are there flowering wattles or other plants that may provide allergens for people prone to asthma?
  • Environmental hazards. Are there specific hazardous creatures in the area (e.g. poisonous snakes and spiders, wasps, bees, ticks, crocodiles or blue-ringedoctopus in some coastal areas)? Are steep valleys prone to sudden flooding? What is the fire risk in the area? Is the water supply in the area known to be infected with giardia, contaminated by cattle or have potential for blue-green algal blooms?

    The aim of risk assessment before the trip is to enable the leader and party to prepare for and hence deal more capably with the consequences of any incident.

    The competence–difficulty model
    The competence–difficulty model is a theoretical model which leaders have found useful for planning the best course of action when assessing and managing risks in outdoor activities. Competence is the ability of individuals to deal effectively with the circumstances confronting them, and comes from their skills and experiences. In addition, there is also a level of group competence, which can sometimes compensate for a lack of individual competence in some areas. This requires a supportive group and an appropriate attitude.

    A participant with a low level of skill and or experience will find easy activities quite interesting, but will probably feel fear or even terror when confronted with activities of high difficulty. On the other hand, a highly skilled or experienced participant may be bored by easy activities, but may find difficult activities highy adventurous. A direct result of this is that a group with highly diverse skill and experience levels will be very difficult to match to an appropriate degree of difficulty in a trip. Either some participants will be over-taxed, or others bored, or if the divergence is great, possibly both at once.

    It is important that leaders develop good judgement of the experience and skill level of their participants. It is easy for an inexperienced participant to have an incorrect perception of the risk, in either direction. A fearful or timid person may overestimate the risks; fearless or confident people may well underestimate the risks. In particular, fearless people may not be aware of the absolute risk, because they may not detect some or all of the likely hazards.

    The competence–difficulty model shown in Figure 6.1 defines a number of experiences that participants may feel during a trip, depending upon the degree of challenge and their perceived ability to meet those challenges. These are:

    • Boredom—where the level of challenge fails to excite even the lowest level of interest;
    • Interest—a low but noticeable level of interest;
    • Adventure—a very satisfactory outcome, balancing demand and coping ability very well;
    • Peak adventure—the highest level of satisfaction with a trip;
    • Fear—where an individual is moderately concerned by potential risk and has doubts about his/her ability to cope; Figure 6.1 Model of the relationship
    • Terror—where an individual’s between experience and perceived concern about ability to survive risk. the activity is so great that it inhibits his/her ability to act appropriately, and places the person in some danger of ongoing psychological problems after the ordeal is finished.