On 7 May 2020, CompliSpace held the webinar “The Issues and Complexity of Managing Excursion Risk” (Webinar), presented by Senior Consultant Jonathan Oliver. The Webinar was the second in a four-part series about navigating excursion risk management.
Specifically, the Webinar focused on:
- taking control of excursion risk management
- studying the research, cases and findings on excursion risk management
- using the International Risk Management Standard ISO 31000 to improve quality
- knowing what is required in relation to duty of care and permission notes
- using contractors.
A recording of the Webinar is accessible here. This article summarises, and provides the key takeaways from, the Webinar. This article does not contain all the information in the Webinar and does not seek to act as its substitute.
Taking Control of Excursion Risk Management – the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’
The first topic Jonathan explored was why it is necessary for schools to take control of excursion risk management. This is due to several factors, including the fact that excursions are a learning enrichment opportunity for students that also give schools the opportunity to provide a broad program. In conjunction with the sheer number of excursions within schools, ranging from 200 to 2000 excursions per year, and the ongoing development of new risks such as infectious diseases, excursion risk management is not an easy process to get right.
Schools must navigate a complex excursion ‘ecosystem’ and take control of the whole excursion risk process. Jonathan breaks the excursion risk process down into three stages:
- risk category
- risk control strategy
- risk control policies.
The risk category stage involves identifying the specific excursion risks. There is a series of finite categories, such as activities, transport, venue and accommodation. This makes it relatively straightforward for schools to predict which risks will apply to which excursions.
The risk control strategy stage involves setting out how the identified risk categories will be controlled. This is worthwhile because it requires policies as well other processes. For example, transport risk control strategies will often be a mix of internal policies and provider due diligence.
The risk control policies stage requires schools to have individual policies relating to all the different things being done on an excursion. These policies are important because they set the standard on how to keep students safe and provide guidance to staff and take pressure off them to think of risk and controls.
Studying the Research, Cases and Findings on Excursion Risk Management – the ‘How’
Jonathan also discussed the importance of looking at what research says about conducting excursions better and more safely.
He looked at Outdoor Education Consultant Rob Hogan’s research, which said that the seven main causes of fatality or disabling injury during an excursion are drowning, impact with an object, exposure/hypothermia, severe burns, electrocution, poisonous bites, and pre-existing medical conditions. Hogan emphasised that there is too much focus on keeping students and staff ‘warm and dry’, instead of focusing on these seven causes.
Jonathan also looked at La Trobe University Adjunct Associate Professor Andrew Brookes’ research, which focused on student fatalities in the two case studies of Nathan Francis and Alexander Sheng Wei Li.
Both pieces of research had the following common threads that should be considered when planning excursions moving forward:
- past success of an excursion is no indication that a school is immune from future failures
- failures and shortcomings are not simply bad luck, but are nearly always attributable to the school and other providers
- schools should review, study, and learn best practice in this space
- schools should focus on fatality/serious injury prevention instead of focusing only on keeping students ‘warm and dry’
- schools should avoid inbuilt program pressures and always have a plan B.
Using the International Risk Management Standard ISO 31000 to Improve Quality – the ‘How’
Jonathon also looked at the International Risk Management Standard ISO 31000. This Standard lays out eight principles, a risk management framework, and an eight-step risk management process. It seeks to provide a universally recognised framework in relation to risk management processes to replace inconsistent standards that exist between different industries.
Although schools should not be expected to use every aspect of the Standard for every excursion, the Standard highlights key elements that should be considered. This includes leadership and commitment being at the centre of the risk management framework, and the need to evaluate the effectiveness of risk controls.
School excursion policies and procedures that are in line with the Standard ensure that they improve quality of the risk assessments and the overall risk management of excursions by referencing a recognised external benchmark, as opposed to simply borrowing policies and procedures from other schools.
Knowing What is Required in Relation to Duty of Care and Permission Notes – the ‘Why’
Schools should approach excursion risk management with an understanding of what is required of them with respect to their duty of care obligations. Duty of care is a well-known concept to all schools and was defined in the School Governance article summarising the introductory webinar in this series.
Jonathan highlighted the non-delegable nature of the duty of care obligation, which was explored in the case Commonwealth v Introvigne  HCA 40. In the context of excursions, “non-delegable” means that even if schools use a contractor/provider to provide a service for an excursion, schools are still liable in the case of injury or fatality regardless of who specifically is at fault. This means that schools cannot ‘contract’ to someone else their liability in relation to the duty of care.
To determine the standard of care required under the duty of care obligation, schools should consider several factors, such as:
- the student’s age, experience and capabilities
- physical and intellectual impairment
- medical conditions
- behavioural characteristics
- the nature of hazards present
- normal practices and procedures in the school
- external sources such as state excursion guidelines.
Schools should also approach excursion risk management with an understanding of what is required of them through excursion permission forms. These forms are a two-way process, as the school provides parents with information about the excursion, and parents give a lot of valuable information about their children to the school, as well as giving informed consent.
Using Contractors – the ‘How’
However, even though schools have a non-delegable duty of care, they may be entitled to an indemnity from a provider. This was seen in the case of Harris v Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Sydney & Anor  NSWDC 172, where the plaintiff was seriously injured during a school excursion to the snow organised with the provider Perisher Blue. Although the duty of care lay with the school, the liability for payment of damages was on Perisher Blue because the Court found that Perisher Blue to be wholly responsible for the accident. Thus, providers may put indemnity clauses in their contracts with schools, which essentially say that schools will pay damages instead of providers in the case of injuries or fatalities. Schools should be wary of these clauses and take steps to remove them and discuss them with school insurers, as necessary.
Key Takeaways – How Schools Should Navigate the Issues and Complexities of Managing Excursion Risk
The Webinar focused on ‘why’ schools need to take control of their excursion risk management processes and understand their non-delegable duty of care, and ‘how’ to do this in line with research and standards.
The key takeaways from the Webinar are:
- schools should understand the excursion ‘ecosystem’ by taking control of the whole excursion risk process, which involves identifying risk categories, developing risk control strategies, and implementing risk control policies
- schools should study the research, cases and findings on past excursion risk management to inform their future excursion risk management
- by following International Risk Management Standard ISO 31000, schools can ensure that their policies and procedures are aligned with a recognised external benchmark
- schools should approach excursion risk management with an understanding of what is required of them under their duty of care obligations and by using excursion permission forms
- schools should be wary of any indemnity clauses when using contractors, which will help them in circumstances of risk management failures.
If you would like to view the frequently asked questions for this Webinar, please click here.
If you would like to learn more about these topics in our upcoming two webinars, please register at the following links:
- “How is Your School Currently Managing Its Excursion Process?” Webinar by Craig D’cruz and Deanne Cannizzaro on 21 May 2020
- “What does Best Practice Excursion Risk Management Look Like?” Webinar by Ian Hird on 4 June 2020