Activity Planning and Risk Assessment
No organization, including the Boy Scouts of America, can anticipate every possible activity that could be conducted as part of a unit, district, or council event. As such, it is neither the intent nor the desire of the BSA to provide specific guidance on subjects that are not core to the program or part of our literature.
For those activities that support the values of the Boy Scouts of America, there are several tools available for participants that will help them plan for a fun and safe tour, activity, or event. Good planning and preparedness prior to executing the activity is key to success. This guide is one of those tools. Other such resources are the Program Hazard Analysis, safety checklists, and the PAUSE card.
As you use these tools, reflect on the words of Robert Baden-Powell: Be Prepared … the meaning of the motto is that a Scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.
Program Hazard Analysis
This tool is primarily used for program areas within camps or high-adventure bases. It covers specific risks to the program areas. This tool has a defined way of assessing probability and severity of risks. This tool assesses risks initially, as if there are no protective measures in place, then looks at the risks again with protective measures.
These tools are used to inspect a vehicle or a meeting place when you have small events or campouts. Checklists are a “body of knowledge” for running Scouting activities safely. Like an airline pilot who uses a checklist before takeoff, these tools help to make sure critical things are in place in order to conduct a safe Scouting activity. Many safety-related program materials include checklists; Sweet 16 of BSA Safety, Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, and Climb on Safely are examples.
The Safety PAUSE process stresses the importance of a last-minute safety check in the field. By encouraging each Scout or adult leader to pause and reflect on the tasks at hand just before beginning, you have an opportunity to take necessary precautions to prevent any present or potential hazards.
The Cherokee Area Council Venturing Officers’ Association follows the National Boy Scouts of America Policies and Guidelines for actives and events. The list of Prohibited Activities can be found on the National BSA Website.
The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety
These 16 safety points, which embody good judgment and common sense, are applicable to all activities:
- Qualified Supervision. Every BSA activity should be supervised by a conscientious adult who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the children and youth in his or her care. The supervisor should be sufficiently trained, experienced, and skilled in the activity to be confident of his or her ability to lead and teach the necessary skills and to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Field knowledge of BSA programs and a commitment to implement and follow BSA policy and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor’s qualifications.
- Physical Fitness. For youth participants in any potentially strenuous activity, the supervisor should receive a complete health history from a health-care professional, parent, or guardian. Adult participants and youth involved in higher-risk activities (e.g., scuba diving) may have to undergo professional evaluation in addition to completing the health history. The supervisor should adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate potential risks associated with individual health conditions. Neither youth nor adults should participate in activities for which they are unfit. To do so would place both the individual and others at risk.
- Buddy System. The buddy system has a dual purpose: You ensure your buddy’s safety during activities, and your buddy ensures your safety. You are never alone and vulnerable.
- Safe Area or Course. A key part of the supervisors’ responsibility is to know the area or course for the activity and to determine that it is well-suited and free of hazards.
- Equipment Selection and Maintenance. Most activity requires some specialized equipment. The equipment should be selected to suit the participants and the activity and to include appropriate safety and program features. The supervisor should also check equipment to determine whether it is in good condition for the activity and make sure it is kept properly maintained while in use.
- Personal Safety Equipment. The supervisor must assure that every participant has and uses the appropriate personal safety equipment. For example, activity afloat requires that each participant properly wear a life jacket; bikers, horseback riders, and whitewater kayakers need helmets for certain activities; skaters need protective gear; and all need to be dressed for warmth and utility as the circumstances require.
- Safety Procedures and Policies. For most activities, common-sense procedures and standards can greatly reduce any risk. These should be known and appreciated by all participants.
- Skill Level Limits. Every activity has a minimum skill level, and the supervisor must identify and recognize this level and be sure that participants are not put at risk by attempting any activity beyond their abilities. A good example of skill levels in Scouting is the swim test, which defines conditions for safe swimming on the basis of individual ability.
- Weather Check. The risks of many outdoor activities vary substantially with weather conditions. Potential weather hazards and the appropriate responses should be understood and anticipated. Weather Hazards training should be up to date for at least one leader on the outing.
- Planning. The safe activity follows a plan that has been conscientiously developed by the experienced supervisor or another competent source. Good planning minimizes risks and also anticipates contingencies that may require an emergency response or a change of plan.
- Communications. The supervisor needs to be able to communicate effectively with participants as needed during the activity. Emergency communications also need to be considered in advance for any foreseeable contingencies.
- Plans and Notices. Council office registration, government or landowner authorization, and any similar formalities are the supervisor’s responsibility when such are required. Appropriate notification should be directed to parents, enforcement authorities, landowners, and others as needed, before and after the activity.
- First-Aid Resources. The supervisor should determine what first-aid supplies to include among the activity equipment. The level of first-aid training and skill appropriate for the activity should also be considered. An extended trek over remote terrain obviously may require more first-aid resources and capabilities than an afternoon activity in a local community. Whatever is determined to be needed should be available.
- Applicable Laws. BSA safety policies generally parallel or go beyond legal mandates, but the supervisor should confirm and assure compliance with all applicable regulations or statutes.
- CPR Resource. Any strenuous activity or remote trek could present a cardiac emergency. Aquatic programs may involve cardiopulmonary emergencies. BSA strongly recommends that a person (preferably an adult) trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) be part of the leadership for any BSA program. This person should be available for strenuous outdoor activity.
- Discipline. No supervisor is effective if he or she cannot control the activity and individual participants. Youth must respect their leaders and follow their directions.