UPFRONT Accidents will happen

You take your senior management team on team-building weekend. You want them to bond, to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to learn to work cooperatively in pressure situations. The last thing you want is for one or some of your group to get injured, lost or, worse still, killed.
And yet, despite all the policy, procedures and paperwork that’s done to reduce the risk of accidents in the great outdoors, they still happen. Grant Davidson, director of the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand, has just completed his PhD at Waikato University’s Management School, looking at root causes of outdoor education accidents. He’s discovered that many accidents happen due to management system failure and human factors, rather than lack of skills or poor judgement. His findings could shape the way we train our outdoor education instructors and reshape decision-making models.
Davidson studied 2000 accidents in New Zealand for the five years 1996-2000, from beestings and blisters to near-death experiences. From this information he selected cross section of more serious incidents across range of activities, gender and organisations eventually finding 20 people who were willing to talk about incidents in which they were involved.
“For each incident there were more than dozen root causes… string of factors that on their own were perhaps seemingly innocuous but combined would lead to an incident. It’s not simply case of blaming the weather or blaming the instructor.”
The causes could be broken down into two categories; failure in management systems and human factors. “In management system it might be something like the lack of system to check staff training; no system to ensure that the skill level of staff member matched the students and environment they were expected to work in; not documenting safety responsibilities; or not having adequate emergency procedures in place.”
The human factors could include poor physical or mental condition, mismatch of skills, poor concentration, snap decision-making without consideration or choosing to take higher level of risk than needed.
“This last factor was the main concern,” says Davidson. “Like the kayaking instructor who’s top trainer, he knows how to run the river safely, but he chooses to ignore his training when those in his charge pressure him to take on something little more risky that they are keen – but don’t necessarily have the skills – to do.”
The focus of lot of the training of outdoor instructors is about learning hard skills – mountain climbing, ice climbing, and kayaking. But Davidson’s research points to the meta-skill training; the psychology, behaviour studies, and learning to resist pressure as being as important, or possibly more important, than hard skills training. “Safe experiences don’t necessarily result from instructors who have the highest level of hard skills,” says Davidson. “It is more important for instructors to be aware of the subtle pressures they’re facing to operate above that safe level.”
Davidson has been director at OPC since 1990. He is deputy chair of Outdoors New Zealand, board member for the Sport Fitness Recreation Industry Training Organisation and chair of the Register of Outdoor Safety Auditors.

Visited 4 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window