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  • Risks – good and bad – are inevitable from birth. Most of us live with the tension of risk every day! We accept it as part of travel, eating out in restaurants, participating in activities and sports.

    Theodore Roosevelt said, “Risk is like fire: If controlled it will help you; if uncontrolled it will rise up and destroy you.”

    When we work and volunteer in organizations that serve the vulnerable sector (children, youth, and vulnerable adults), it is inevitable that we are participating in activities with heightened risks.  When deciding on the activities that are higher risk activities, whose responsibility is it to decide? 

    Within the last few years, we have heard many case studies of accidents and injuries within organizations. Many of these injuries and catastrophes could have been avoided or at the least reduced if organizers had calculated the risks and put steps in place to reduce the risk of harm, injury or death:

    • A 15-year-old boy was the front person on a toboggan. It was late at night when the toboggan smashed into a tree. He fractured his thigh.  They stopped off after youth group as the hill looked fun!
    • A 7-year-old girl went missing, undetected for several hours, because the camp had failed to establish a buddy system and boundaries appropriate to the swimmers’ ability.
    • After a 15-year old become ill at an entertainment theme park, she was left to sleep off nausea medication alone in a hot car. It was one of the hottest days of summer.  She didn't want to ruin other people's fun!
    • A 76-year old woman slipped and fell on ice, breaking her wrist while entering a church.  
    • A 15-year old died when the ATV she was driving alone and unsupervised flipped over in a ditch. She asked for one more ride!
    • A 14 year old was raped when she walked home alone after a youth event. She made the decision to walk alone!
    • A three-year old went into anaphylactic shock when she was given snacks with peanuts in her daycare program.  The assistant had a bag of candies left over from Halloween.
    • A boy, age nine, was killed during a hayride when he fell from a wagon without side rails — landing under the wheels of a trailing wagon.  A neighbour came over and offered the kids a ride during a Sports Camp.
    • On their way to an amusement park, five youth, and a driver were killed when their van crashed into the rear of a slow-moving semi-trailer. The driver of the car had only two hours sleep the night before the trip.  Youth leaders decided to take individual cars to the amusement park versus using budget to rent a bus. 

    Unfortunately, risk is often associated with insurance and liability. However, let us never lose sight of the names, faces, and families that have been injured or killed in the accidents or left grieving. These are the important reasons to take extra precautions when planning events that include the probability of higher risks.

    Church Mutual states that good risk management practices don’t detract from programming; they help your organization and your leadership in promoting and advancing your goals by:

    • Preventing loss or damage,
    • Avoiding interruption to programs and operations,
    • Better protection for your people,
    • Avoiding the unnecessary placement of volunteers and employees in adverse situations,
    • Providing a positive testimony to your community by adhering to standards that are equal to, or exceed, society’s requirements, and
    • Demonstrating that your leaders (i.e. board members and employees) have exhibited due diligence and care in accordance with their fiduciary duties and statutory responsibilities on behalf of the organization.

    A healthy and pro-active Board will devote time, energy and resources to effectively managing and mitigating risks.

    The different categories of risks to be considered are risks to people and property (construction, missing child, stairs, and playgrounds). Risks you face due to extreme hot and cold weather (e.g. unsafe ice, sunstroke, and hypothermia). Risks associated with food (e.g. food poisoning and allergies) and risks associated with activities (e.g. skiing, swimming, wilderness hikes, and biking). There are also many miscellaneous risks (e.g. clothing with drawstrings and belts, insects, reptiles, and animals). We recommend organizations avoid risks unless they are directed to healthy adults, and provided by certified program delivers. These include but are not limited to bungee jumping, speed racing, rodeos, parasailing, and skydiving.

    During our consulting and training, we remind participants that decisions about activities of elevated risks should not be made in isolation or around a table of youth sponsors, programs leaders and/or spontaneously decided on when kids are bored in program.

    Activities of elevated risks must be planned well in advance. During the planning, organizers must consult with their Board, insurance companies, best practices, and parents.

    Finally, we recommend that you include within your policies and operational procedures guidelines on risks to avoid, and high-level risks that will be allowed but closely monitored and supervised.

    If you would like more information on High Risk Activities, our recent webinar on the topic of High Risk Activities provides suggestions for assessing risks, and tips for successfully preparing for high-risk activities. This webinar has been recorded and is available to members of Plan to Protect®. 


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