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    What constitutes a high-risk activity?

    July 12, 2019 Melodie Bissell
    Filed Under:
    Policies and Procedures

    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of high risk is: likely to result in failure, harm or injury or more likely than others. 

    When assessing the risk level of an activity, assess the severity of the harm, injury or abuse: whether it is trivial (little to no effect), minor (requiring first aid), moderate (sprains, strains, referral to a doctor, or 1-6 days of lost time), or intolerable (major injury including 7 days of lost time, disastrous results, life changing injury, or trauma).  Also assess the likelihood of an accident, injury or abuse:  whether it be improbable (unlikely to occur), possible (likely to occur) or probable (risk will occur).

    One of the best practices we have identified is that used by Girl Guides Canada. They assign activities with green light, yellow light, or red light. 

    Activities assigned yellow would fall under the category of low risk, and these activities would be acceptable and given the OK to proceed.  These activities include sedentary classroom activities, low impact exercises, walking, computer studies, and reading activities, etc.

    Activities assigned yellow would require further action to reduce risk if this can be done cost effectively, and the benefits will outweigh the risk(s).  Otherwise risk can be tolerated if existing precautions are maintained and managed by taking steps to remove or reduce the risk.  Ways that you can manage these risks would be to have a life guard on duty (swimming), or a certified instructor (rock climbing). Some characteristics of medium risk factors include, but are not limited to: walking through forest, zoos, urban centres, public transportation, amusement parks, hiking, overnight i.e. hotel/motel, camping and retreats, etc.

    There could also be a category called “High Medium”, which applies to activities where relatively few losses occur, but because of the nature of the hazards, any loss that does occur will result in a catastrophic injury. Excursions/activities that fall in this sub-category need to be carefully considered as to whether they are an appropriate activity, and if selected, managed with more caution. This category includes activities such as Extreme Sports, wilderness excursions, rock climbing, high ropes, canopy walks, etc.

    Finally, activities assigned red would be considered high risk activities.  The nature of the activity or the presence of obvious hazards results in a high probability of a loss occurring with catastrophic results, it is foreseeable that a loss will occur, and/or you have no control over the risks that are present. Some characteristics of high-risk factors include, but are not limited to:

    • Fall heights exceeding 8 feet;
    • Exposure to weather elements – sun, wind, extreme heat/cold;
    • Extreme tidal conditions, currents or wave action (including white water);
    • High speeds (driving/boating);
    • Uncontrolled free fall or jumps;
    • Areas prone to natural elements – avalanche, mudslides, volcanic activity, flash flood, disease outbreak, etc.;
    • Natural disaster areas – hurricane, ice/snow storm, tornadoes, earthquake, etc. 

    When assessing the level of risk, also take into consideration:

    • the age and experience of a driver (drivers under the age of 25 have 4x more crashes than drivers over the age of 25);
    • the age and experience of the supervisors and chaperones;
    • nature of the activity; 
    • the ability and experience of the participants (degree of difficulty, physical strength, endurance, coordination, mobility, and physical/mental limitations);
    • the age of the participants (height and weight); 
    • environmental factors; and
    • the number of participants compared to the number of adult leaders (ratios should be significantly adjusted for high risk activities).

    At Plan to Protect®, we recommend that program leaders conduct a risk assessment prior to the event and submit this to leadership to secure approval prior to the event.  Once approved prepare a Letter of Informed Consent with a carefully written Release and Waiver.  The Letter of Informed Consent should include: 

    • Details of the activity or event 
    • Description of the activity
    • Possible injuries that could occur – provide examples
    • Steps taken to reduce the risk of injury, harm and abuse i.e. elevated supervision, lifeguards, swim tests, etc.
    • That there is no guarantee of safety
    • Safety rules in place
    • Requirements i.e. hat, sunscreen, water bottle
    • Confirmation of ability to participate
    • Permission to treat for medical care

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