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Useful Advice on Safety and
Risk Assessments
for Scout Activities
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  Risks Risks & safety

Useful information to prevent accidents and losses

  1. Safety and Risk Assessment for Scout Activities
  2. Risk Management and Property Damage

Safety and Risk Assessments for Scout Activities

One dictionary definition of the word ‘accident’ is an ‘event happening by chance’. Inevitably, despite the greatest care and preparation, accidents can and do happen. All too often, however, what some call an accident can be attributed to a failure to properly assess the risk and to act accordingly.

It is significant that comparatively few accidents happen during adventurous activities, whilst one third of all notified accidents occur in or around the Scout Group Headquarters and another third happen on campsites.

The simple truth is that we all recognise the dangers in dangling a Scout twenty-five metres up a rock face. We insist that those leading such activities be properly qualified and publish guidance on techniques and safety. Troop night, however is accorded little attention.

Why do we fail to see the obvious?

To an extent it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt. How many Group Headquarters can identify the following:

  • Tables, chairs and other ‘hard’ equipment stored in the main hall where games are played.
  • Fixtures/fittings which protrude from the walls (fire extinguishers, window sills etc.).
  • Slippery vinyl flooring (a particular hazard when it is wet.)

Or at camp:

  • Open fire cooking with containers balanced on unstable platforms.
  • Boiling water placed outside the dining shelter to cool down.
  • Use of a rope ‘swing’ set up by previous campers.

Some of the most serious ‘accidents’ reported to the Association are attributable to a total failure, by a Leader, to think through to the potential consequence of their action. Consider the following recipe for disaster:

Take a one gallon aluminium dixie, a single burner gas cooker and a trestle table. Set them up in the dining shelter on a campsite and bring the water to the boil. Now add several boisterous Cub Scouts around the table...

It wasn’t an ‘accident’. The results were obvious to anyone who thought about it!

Some hazards are, of course, harder to predict. The Scout Movement is well known for its ability to scrounge potentially expensive items and many well meaning companies or individuals will donate equipment. Our ‘accident’ files contain many examples of injuries caused by such an item as the humble fire extinguisher (more often noted for being empty when needed), and there is a recorded case of a Cub Scout being impaled on the springs of an armchair donated for the comfort of the Scouters’ room! It really should not need saying but any equipment bought secondhand or donated should be carefully checked for safety. This is especially true if it contains liquids or gasses under pressure or whose combustion can cause toxic fumes or if it is electrically powered. A ‘freebie’ is not worth it if it ends up costing someone their life.

Nearly all Scout Counties/Areas have a ‘Safety Co-ordinator’ who can offer advice and, increasingly, Headquarters is providing risk assessment models and tools for your use. We do not need to become ‘slaves’ to paperwork. However, a simple assessment may stop a painful incident from happening.

Think safety! Most ‘accidents’ can be prevented if someone had stopped long enough to consider the potential.

When planning activities and camps, look critically at the programme. Ensure there is a leader in charge taking an overview on the safety of the event or activity.

More help and resources on risk assessments for Scout activities are available on The Scout Association's website: Planning and Assessing Risk.

Risk Management and Property Damage

The concept of ‘risk management’ is relatively simple and can be applied equally to accidents involving physical injury and to the protection of a Group’s assets. The idea is to identify potential risks and then to formulate a plan to avoid or minimise them.

Just as many Groups are unaware of the potential for accidents in and around the Groups’ Headquarters, an equally large number are oblivious to the need to protect themselves against crime. Nationally, we have seen unprecedented increases in both vandalism and arson attacks on buildings and equipment and this is costing dearly in terms of increased premiums and excesses.

Good security costs money. Many Groups take the view that they pay more than enough for their insurance, without committing hard earned cash to improve locks, install alarms etc. Whilst this attitude may be understandable, it ignores the fact that even one major loss prevented can save us all increased premiums next year. Furthermore, improved security can produce immediate benefits. A lower starting premium rate and a discount might apply. These savings could pay for an alarm system over 3-4 years.

At the end of the day, if an arsonist does strike, your insurance will hopefully meet the costs of a new building. What it will not do is replace all those artefacts and memorabilia collected over many years and which comprise the Group’s history, nor will it compensate you for the hard work and heartache needed to re-establish the Group.

Tip: Photograph unusual items or those with a high value. Then keep the photos somewhere safe and away from the items concerned. The photos are useful for proving your claim and may assist in having replacements made if appropriate. Where to start? Well the obvious thing to do is to examine carefully your existing security.

Try to identify the weakest point. Areas such as:

  • Small ventilators/windows left open. These can be especially vulnerable where they are ‘hidden’ at the back of buildings (toilet windows are especially prone).
  • Panic bar equipped fire escape doors. These can often be sprung simply by banging on the outside!
  • Inadequate ‘rim’ type locks.
  • Combustible materials stored against the outside of the building (i.e. pioneering poles, dead vegetation, pallets etc).
  • Large glazed windows.

Having identified the risks, get them raised at the next Scouters and Group Executive meetings. Draw up an action plan, dealing with the most vulnerable areas first and examine the options for protection.

Some tasks might cost little or nothing and yet reap a large benefit. For example cutting back shrubs and bushes to reduce cover for would be thieves (or conversely, planting brambles and other thorny plants in strategic locations). Screwing up ‘unused’ windows (thieves do not like climbing through broken glass) or even sealing them off completely.

Your building does not need to look like Fort Knox to be secure and yet you can do much to discourage the attention of the thief or arsonist. An alarm system will obviously entail major expenditure but will undoubtedly reduce risk. A simple audible only system may well produce a discount on your premium rates which will pay back the outlay over 4-5 years. It is an investment in the Group’s future.

More help and resources on managing safe Scout properties are available on The Scout Association's website: Managing a Premises.

For further safety information from The Scout Association

For ways to manage safety in Scouting with regards to common issues such as fire safety, asbestos, food safety and running safe scout premises, please see the safety pages on The Scout Association's website.



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