A camp, major event or excursion can often be the first time a student is away from their parents, relying on their school to help them stay safe. But small issues can escalate into big problems with even bigger consequences if not planned for, and managed correctly. In this article we explore these risks and how to prepare for them, including one such example where an allergy management plan was mismanaged, which led to severe consequences. Also, we hear from an industry expert on Catholic youth events, what to expect and what to avoid with camps, major events and excursions involving students.
A cautionary tale about student allergy management
Students with life threatening food allergies are at a significant risk today. Research shows that 1 in 10 children, and up to 2% of the population, have food allergies for life. Consider how many children that equates to in your school or college. An allergic reaction can be as simple as a runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes, but in some instances, can be more serious and cause shortness of breath, increased heartrate and anaphylaxis. Allergy management plans help keep students safe, and prevent incidents like this from occurring, but sometimes allergies that are well managed on school grounds can be mismanaged when students are still under the care of the school and go on camps or excursions.
This cautionary tale centres on a student who suffered an allergic reaction to sesame on a school camp. At the camp, the student was entrusted into the care of camp supervisors, who were monitoring the sesame allergy. They advised the student that the meal served for dinner was free of sesame, but after one mouthful the student was short of breath, and their throat began to swell. A quick thinking fellow student spotted the student in distress, and a camp supervisor administered first aid, and adrenaline through an EpiPen. The ill student was airlifted to the nearest hospital, and while they spent time under observation in hospital, the camp was cancelled early as there were not enough supervisors.
Following a review of the incident, the food preparation area was found to be dirty, and contaminated with sesame residue. Despite the fact that allergy management in the student's school environment worked well, the school had to review their incident management plan. They also reviewed their camps and excursions policy, as well as each student's allergy management plan. The school eventually reached an out of court settlement with the parents of the affected student.
Plan for every little thing
Any time a student is outside the school environment under the supervision or care of the school, schools and colleges have a duty of care to ensure that students and staff are kept safe from harm. The tale is a reminder that when students are in an environment partly out of the school's control, and away for long periods of time, risk management processes can become strained and are especially difficult to manage. When other people, such as camp providers, volunteers, schools and parents are involved in information sharing, one small break in this chain makes a small issue more significant, and increases the likelihood that something could go wrong.
Conduct a pre-event risk assessment
Before a camp, major event or excursion, it's important to complete a risk assessment and develop a risk management plan for each specific event. Follow your school's camps and excursions policies and procedures and make sure to consider the common areas of risk, such as:
External provider compliance.
The competence of the volunteers, staff and supervision.
Adequate briefed volunteers, staff and parents.
Clothing and equipment.
Medical and allergy information.
High risk, adventure activities.
Transport, travel and security.
This is important so that your event risks and emerging risks are adequately captured, controls are appropriate and effective, and any potential gaps and opportunities for improvement are identified.
For more on this, see our article on staying safe at major events.
Review your risk management plan during, and after
During camps, major events and excursions, be sure to monitor your risk management plan. Consider what activities will take place and what needs to be managed to ensure the camp or excursion is conducted safely. In the case of our tale, an allergic reaction triggered by a small amount of food can be rapid in onset, and escalate quickly to a life threatening emergency.
After a camp, major event or excursion, ensure all incidents are reported, recorded, and investigated. Conduct a post event analysis and make sure to evaluate, review and improve the risk management plan.
Words from the wise
As we've discussed, careful planning helps stop smaller issues from escalating. This year, the Catholic Church is celebrating the Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF), which is expected to be attended by students from across the nation. We reached out to Malcolm Hart, Director of the Office for Youth at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for his valuable tips and suggestions on how to prepare for an event like this. With over 20 years of experience and involvement in World Youth Day (WYD), and the ACYF, Malcolm knows how to help put your risk management plan in to action.
"Many schools and diocesan Catholic school's offices have a clear culture and process for preparing for events, either nationally or internationally. These processes do not always match up to event preparations, or other diocese and countries' processes or approach to participation, so schools and colleges should ensure supervision, management and safety processes are flexible and can adapt to different scenarios at events. Event organisers don't always get it right, and they can't always control how other groups participate," Malcolm says.
"When preparing for the ACYF and WYD, the safety of all participants is a top priority. Site visits, risk assessments, and procedures aren't just in place to keep young people safe, but rather to help them 'participate' safely.
Taking action and further resources
By following each of the steps we have outlined, you can reduce the risk at your school or college's camp, major event or excursion, you will help stop small issues from becoming major problems.
For more help and advice, see our school camps and excursions guide
. For more tips on how to get started and give your workers the skills to help them, their fellow workers and those in their care safe during off-site activities, see CCI's Learning Manager has a Camps & Excursions course
. Please contact us on 1300 660 827 for more information.
Download the RiskED 2016 eBook for a complete wrap-up of the RiskED 2016 series.