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Useful advice for a safer camp from Unity (Scout Insurance Services).
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Camping Risks and Safety Advice

Camping is one of the most important activities that Scouts take part in. From our experience, it can also result in a large number of accidents.

Unity (Scout Insurance Services) has been insuring Scout camps and activities for over 80 years, and has had to deal with many accident claims and report. By analysis of incident reports, and learning from the mistakes and misfortune of others, Unity offers the following advice to help you have a safer camp.

Arriving at Camp

We have seen reports of accidents with manual campsite barriers coming down and injuring people’s hands unexpectedly as well as damaging personal property, like cars. In one instance it was found that the barrier was defective and a report back to the site recommended that it should be replaced to avoid future injuries occurring. In another the barrier was found to be in good condition but the driver of the vehicle was not able to see it clearly in the dark.

Accidents often occur when unloading equipment. Items such a patrol tents are heavy and injuries will occur if they are not lifted properly or an eager Beaver Scout tries to lift them on their own.

Do not allow people to ride on top of equipment trailers or walk close by when transferring kit to your site. There have been a number of accidents relating to this. In one such case, a piece of kit fell from the trailer and landed on a beaver resulting in them suffering serious internal injuries. In another case an adult’s foot was run over by the fully loaded trailer as it reversed. The vehicle stopped on the leader’s foot and could not hear his cries for help over the noise of the bus. The leader sustained several broken bones in his foot.

Control the speed of your vehicles on campsites and fields. Supervise the access of vehicles and pedestrians to ensure that they are not at risk.

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Pitching tents

Particular care needs to be taken when putting up tents to avoid the types of incidents that aren’t necessarily in the instruction manual.

Try to pitch your tents as far apart as possible to reduce the risk of tripping and to prevent the spread of fire, should it occur. Tents used for sleeping should be at least two metres apart, and tents used for cooking, at least five metres away from other tents.

Pitching tents in high winds adds extra risks. Unity was involved in a claim from a leader for a back injury sustained while helping to erect a marquee. A sudden gust of wind caught the roof of the marquee with a number of leaders holding on around the edges. The leader hyper-extended their back as the roof lifted and they tried to hold it down.

Once erected, it is advisable to use extra guy lines in high winds or in the event of surprise gusts of wind. Making sure you have the right tent for your camping environment is also important. For example we have seen a rise in the number of incidents involving Fiesta/party tents, the kind often used for wedding receptions and outdoor catering events. In each case extra strapping and guy lines were used but were ineffective.

In one case a Fiesta tent was used as a mess tent. During strong winds it was lifted from its anchors and collapsed on the diners inside. Hot water urns were being used which were also pulled over and resulted in severe burns to a number of people.

During a local event a Fiesta tent broke loose and ended up on the adjoining railway line, causing delays to the rail network. Another Fiesta tent broke loose during a camp and wrapped itself around a telephone pole. The local fire brigade was called to remove it.

The most common claim arising from Fiesta tents is damage to cars when one blows away and lands on it! In many cases the damage to a leader’s car is not covered as it is more often than not the leader who erected the tent in the first place. The Scout Public Liability Insurance policy will only pay compensation if it can be proved that the claimant has suffered a loss or injury as a result of someone else’s negligence. If you have erected a tent which subsequently blows away and damages your property, you cannot claim against your own negligence.

Additional guidance on the use of fiesta / party tents can be found at www.scouts.org.uk/safety.

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Fires and Cooking

It goes without saying that fires, hot cooking fat or boiling water can result in serious injuries if care is not taken.

We have records of accidents even before the fires have been lit and the cooking started. Injuries have occurred when breaking up wooden pallets for firewood, with people stepping on the nails and staples which have punctured even very sturdy walking boots. Suitable footwear must be worn and an area designated for chopping wood. Care also needs to be taken when storing firewood, so that it does not fall on people and injure them. Unity was made aware of one case where a cub was assisting older members with collecting firewood from a wood pile. One of the older scouts threw a large piece of wood out of the pile without looking where it was going. The wood hit the cub who required several stitches.

It isn’t always the case that someone else has to be involved for an injury to occur. Scouts out in the wood foraging for kindling are most likely looking down at the ground and not immediately around themselves. Unseen branches sticking out of trees cause numerous accidents every year, catching Scouts in the eye or on the face. Thankfully they have all made a good recovery but a trip to A&E on the first night of any camp shouldn’t be on your itinerary of activities.

Loose clothing around fires can result in clothes catching fire and burns. Make sure the clothing is appropriate.

It is not just wood fires, where caution need be applied. Gas bottles come with their own risks if instructions regarding their use or storage are not followed.
Unity has unfortunately seen a number of burns from cooking oil and spilt boiling water at camps. If frying or boiling water the pans must be stable and younger members closely instructed and supervised.

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Activities and Risk Assessments

Risk assessments must be carried out and every activity run in accordance with POR. The leader in charge must ensure other leaders and helpers are aware of the risks and be prepared to adjust an activity if conditions change. For example, it is dry when the risk assessment is done but has been raining by the time the activity takes place.

By making the participants aware of the risks, you are not only protecting them and covering yourself but educating those young members under your care of the hazards that are out there.

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Supervision

Remember to keep a watchful eye on young people at your camp and know when to intervene in order to prevent an accident. This doesn’t mean on a one to one basis but The Scout Association was recently found liable for the injuries caused to a young member during a weekly meeting following a bout of rough and tumble between several explorers. The group was well run with policies and procedures in place relating to conduct, however, The Courts ruled that the leaders could have intervened to stop this activity sooner and avoid the injury. The claimant’s solicitor’s costs for this case exceeded £100k with £4k paid to the claimant!

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After dark

Tripping over guy ropes, and other items, is too common an occurrence. Keeping your site tidy and not leaving items lying around at night, all members using torches and regular reminders about campsite safety will help prevent tripping accidents.

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Packing up and going home

After an enjoyable camp you just want to get home and showered. Don’t underestimate how tired you might be. If you have a long journey home ensure you are able to share the journey or break it up into stages. The most common cause of car, minibus and coach accidents is driver fatigue.

Ensure your kit is packed securely in case you have to stop suddenly. Flying kit can cause serious injury.

If you are towing a trailer ensure whatever is on it is securely fastened. In one case a canoe came loose while negotiating a roundabout and struck another car. In another, upon arriving at camp one of the canoes was missing from the trailer. Despite retracing the route the canoe was never recovered.

Ensure the tyre pressure on your vehicle and trailer is correct for the load you are carrying.

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Further information

Information on Safety in Scouting and undertaking risk assessments can be found at www.scouts.org.uk/safety.

If accidents do happen

However much preparation is made and however thorough your risk assessment, accidents may still happen. If they do, you must notify The Scout Information Centre or Unity (Scout Insurance Services) and complete an Incident Report form.

For further information see our accident and incident reporting page.

Insurance cover

Members of The Scout Association will be covered by the Personal Accident and Medical Expenses insurance policy arranged by Unity.

For non-members, such as occasional helpers, attending your camps and other Scouting activities, you can arrange Personal Accident and Medical Expenses insurance by simply phoning Unity and paying an additional premium.

Details of the Personal Accident and Medical Expenses insurance policy can be found here.

Unity can protect your Scout Group from financial losses due to your camp being cancelled or abandoned for things beyond your control (subject to policy terms and conditions). Take a look at our UK Camp or Overseas Travel policies developed specifically for Scouting.

If your camping outside the UK, take a look at our advice "Travel insurance: the essentials" to help ensure you are suitably insured and get promptly reimbursed for any losses if you need to make a claim.

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