Risk Management in the Outdoors – Tracey Dickson PhD and Tonia Gray PhD

Book Preface

Excerpt from 

“To Risk”

by William Arthur Ward

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.

Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;

The optimist expects it to change;

And the realist adjusts the sails.



Undeniably, risk is part of the human experience.  Risk management is a ubiquitous concern for those involved in outdoor education, sport and recreation as typically the focus has been upon physical dangers. Varying degrees of danger exist within the myriad of activities undertaken in the outdoors.  Whether they be high physical risk activities such as rock fishing, equestrian sports, or adventure racing, or the more leisurely and low physical risk activities such as bird watching, dragon boat racing or a simple bushwalk along a marked trail.  But whatever the motivation, risk, in its many forms, and activities in the outdoors are inextricably linked.

There is universal acceptance that we engage in risk-taking behaviours as either an innate personal reward, or as a conquest, or even as a badge of peer acceptance.  Risk management in the outdoors covers the broad spectrum from high to low risk activities. This book builds upon over 17 years of Australian industry interest in the management of risks in outdoor activities that has been documented in earlier editions of the risk management document published by the Outdoor Recreation Industry Council of New South Wales (Dickson & Tugwell, 2000; Jack, 1994). As with this book, the earlier editions drew upon a wide array of industry experts’ insights and experiences.

Building upon these earlier publications, Chapter 1 conceptualises risk in terms of a whole-of-organisation approach, moving the focus from just physical dangers, to a focus upon anything that may impact why and how people engage in outdoor activities.  Individuals need places or outlets in which they can experiment with risk, to test their skill level, to learn from their misfortunes or mistakes and to develop, into confident and well-rounded human beings and participants in their communities.  Outdoor activities in sport, outdoor education and recreation provide opportunities where this can manifest.

In keeping with the whole-of-organisation approach , Chapter 2 introduces sustainability, drawing upon the views of triple bottom line accounting, corporate social responsibility and social businesses.  This provides a wider context within which organisations may situate themselves by discussing economic, social and environmental sustainability. The legal context, with particular emphasis upon issues related to negligence, liability, occupational health and safety and civil liability legislation are introduced in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 considers the organisational context, discussing the role of organisational culture, insurance, finance, and human resources, policies and procedures upon risk management. Chapter 5 presents data on the real physical risks, drawing on published and unpublished sources.

Part 2 of the book moves to more practical aspects of risk management in relation to maximising the positive outcomes and minimising the negative.  This begins with Chapter 6 where program design and activity selection are considered. An overview of program evaluation and how organisations, small and large may be able to develop a system of evaluation that explore the effectiveness of their activities, and the degree to which they are achieving their program or organisational objectives is provided in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 introduces the concept of risk communication, and considers how all parties in the equation may be part of the risk management solution, from participants to the media. The use of technology, in education and safety is discussed in Chapter 9, and how it may contribute to desired outcomes, as well as insights into its limitations. Chapter 10 introduces risk management in the face of severe weather, including prevention, management and recovery. Finally, Chapter 11 provides insights into injury surveillance, what data could be collected and how it might be analysed in order to determine if your safety management efforts are having an impact. Further, examples of risk analyses using a variation of the risk matrix are provided in the Appendix.

Dickson, T. J., & Tugwell, M. (Eds.). (2000). The Risk Management Document: Strategies in Risk Management for Outdoor and Experiential Learning. Sydney, NSW: Outdoor Recreation Industry Council (NSW).

Jack, M. (1994). Strategies for risk management in outdoor and experiential learning: a manual identifying risk management issues, creation of an operations manual, common practices and standards. Brookvale, NSW: The Outdoor Professionals.


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