Safety is paramount.
Everyone who participates in any group event is responsible for their own safety. In short this means:
- Wearing the right clothing
- Using the right equipment
- Having the right fitness
- Following the right protocol
- Informing others of medical conditions
- Knowing basic first aid, having first aid kit
- Knowing what to expect in advance
- Asking for advice and information in advance
- Not engaging in dangerous activities
- Not endangering the safety of others
- Behaving appropriately towards others
- Respecting the advice of experienced people
Participants: The group offers everyone new who attends on Thursday evenings a one-page leaflet summarising outdoor clothing, equipment, basic first aid, and sources of additional safety and outdoor protocol information (books). The group or its members cannot guarantee safety on any event. All activities involve some risk and everyone is responsible for minimising risks to themselves. Anyone who represents a risk to themselves or others will be asked to not participate in an event. Everyone is responsible for understanding and implementing the actions required to ensure their safety whilst participating in the group's outdoor activities.
Organisers: Event organisers should give as much full and correct information as early as possible. Preferably prepare and plan as early as possible and consider the risks in the activity. If you are uncertain about some things or there is variability then say so. Make a judgement about the people participating in the event. Ask people about their experience, abilities and fitness. If you consider they represent a risk to themselves or others then you have the right to tell them to not attend the event. If you need help and advice with the event you are organising then ask. Use the experience of others - it's part of the learning curve.
Walk leaders should make a head count at the start point and appoint a back marker, who ideally should be familiar with the proposed route.
Risks: Serious accidents or worse are extremely rare. Most activities involve no more than minimal risk: walking, cycling, rock climbing etc. Someone could twist an ankle while walking or fall while cycling or rock climbing. Inconvenient and painful yes, but with preparation and action they can be managed. Likewise with food, most people can easily survive a few days without food. Water is much more important, so ensure adequate supplies. Walks closer to open ground level present less risk than walks in mountains or forests. Walks present less risk than activities that involve water and speed. Rock climbing automatically presents higher risk unless correct climbing gear and protocol is used.
Generally the bigger risks are most likely to come from the environment and people. Difficult navigation (getting lost), weather changes (getting cold and wet), sun (sunstroke, sunburn, dehydration), ice (hypothermia, slipping), time delays (getting back in darkness) or people (someone goes missing). Risks involve a probability and an impact and safety is improved by reducing both, in short good preparation and planning. For example:
- The probability of twisting an ankle while walking is reduced by wearing proper footwear and walking in a correct manner and pace for the terrain. The impact of twisting an ankle while walking is reduced by wearing proper footwear and knowing how to deal with a twisted ankle.
- The probability of getting lost is reduced by having a map and compass and knowing how to use them. The impact of getting lost is reduced by knowing how to read terrain and culture to gauge location.
- Staying found: Staying found is an attitude as well as a skill and more people get lost on a casual walk than do on long trips. Why? Long trips are generally well planned. Someone will have a map and be paying attention to them. The organiser will probably be experienced with map and compass navigation and paying attention to surroundings. That's the secret. Take the time to turn around and see the route taken so far and where the sun is. Be aware of surroundings. Knowing the route taken is almost as good as knowing where you are.. Tell someone not on your activity your route, destinations and expected times. Do not rely on mobile phones. Carry a whistle, maybe flares for serious activities, and bright and fluorescent clothing.
- Leadership: Most backpackers rarely find themselves in a position where they're on a trip that requires formal leadership. But any trip of any length with other people is a leadership situation, or at least a situation in which choices have to be made. Some advice:
- Do not EVER press anyone beyond their capabilities in a recreational situation. That's not "getting tough"; that's getting clinically sadistic.
- Do not let recreational walks turn into situations that require a life or death effort by sheer carelessness, arrogance or lack of observation
- If someone is soaked to the skin shivering, don't press on. Make camp there, eat and get warm to avoid any chance of hypothermia.
- If someone shows signs of fatigue, hypothermia or heat stroke DO NOT insist on toughing it out. Make camp, or, if on a day hike, take care of the problem NOW before there is a full-blown emergency.
- Walking with kids and the elderly: Remember kids and the elderly are probably more interested in the moment, the views, the culture, the conversation, the whole experience. If an activity is really aimed at the fit and fast then say so.
- Attitude: Positive attitudes ultimately determine how much everyone enjoys outdoor activities and how much everyone enjoys each others company. Safety is improved by personal warmth and realistic expectations of the pace and approach being taken.
- Emergencies: If the worst happens, stay calm, stay together, stay positive.