This fourth piece in our duty of care series comes from Matthew Davies, an expert in adventure travel and risk management. Last week was the first half of this post, in which Matthew shares his expertise on what safe adventure travel should include. You can read that first part here: Duty of Care: Matthew Davies at Remote Area Risk International – Adventure Travel: Safety Considerations, Pt 1.
Matthew Davies FRGS, Director at Remote Area Risk International
Matthew Davies FRGS is a Travel Risk Management and Remote Area Risk specialist, certified Duty of Care Practitioner – as well as a specialist lawyer within this area. He has over 25 years experience in the field, is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has led expeditions in and trained teams for various environments including desert and arctic circle expeditions. He is a member of the drafting committee for BS:8848.
Adventure Travel – Safety Considerations for planning overseas expeditions and adventures.
So, you have taken careful steps to set up your organization correctly, or in the case of a group of friends, at least take out travel insurance. What are some of the key considerations in terms of stopping things going wrong?
Where can we look to see what we should be doing? Helpfully, some very learned people have worked, at no cost, to input several million pounds worth of consultancy hours into what is perceived as “good practice” (I get twitchy when people mention “best practice” as there are often several ways to achieve suitable end results.)
Have a look at:
British Standard 8848
8848 – The height of Everest in Metres. The standard for overseas activities, fieldwork, expeditions and adventurous activities. This is now in its second incarnation and likely its third in the near future. A very helpful document setting out what you should do to plan, deliver and review expeditions and other activities to which the standard applies. It’s not cheap so my tip is to order it via your library. A note to the reader by way of transparency – I am on the drafting committee for this document. The document is internationally considered to be of significant weight as “good practice”. It gets waved around in court cases and inquests in the UK and overseas.
Royal Geographical Society certified Off Site Safety Management course
A 2-day course, delivered by various providers including ourselves. The course was originally an OCR Level 3 course with an exam. A few of us have been delivering the course since those early days. The course is now owned by the Royal Geographical Society. Instructors cover the core content but can tailor to clients. We generally run this course tailored to expedition, mineral exploration and fieldwork operations. The course informed BS:8848 and is a useful tool for working towards BS:8848 compliance. In simple terms, you don’t know what you don’t know. Attending the OSSM course means you will know what you don’t know and will go away with solutions or at least other areas for research and study. Content covers the natural planning, delivery and review stages of off-site activities – with lots of case studies.
Also have a look at:
- Expedition Provider’s Association – Learning Outside the Classroom badge
- ISO 21101 – Adventure Tourism: Safety Management System Requirements
- ISO 21103 – Information for participants
- ISO 20012/TR – Leader Competence
All activities need a risk assessment – it’s not complicated. It’s an assessment of risk. Exactly what it says on the label. You have all done one – when you cross the road. The UK Health and Safety Executive website provides significant assistance in one method of risk assessment – the ‘five steps to risk assessment’ method. Identify the hazards, who may be harmed and how, evaluate the risks and decide on precautions, record your significant findings, review your risk assessments regularly and evaluate if necessary.
It is also imperative you record “near misses” to inform your consideration of risk assessments. This is not a treatise in risk assessment but there are often ‘near misses’ before actual incidents. Often the warnings given by near misses, from which lessons should have been learned and rectifying action undertaken, are overlooked or ignored. Identifying themes assists you in putting in place control measures.
“Most man-made disasters and violent conflicts are preceded by incubation periods during which policy makers misinterpret, are ignorant of, or flat-out ignore repeated indications of impending danger”
(Boin & t’Hart, 2003:547)
For the travel sector, most deaths are caused by road traffic collisions followed by incidents involving water. Falling from balconies (often under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol) and other unusual fates also feature. Deaths from actual adventurous activities, rather than travel or accommodation related to it are thankfully rare.
Research your field. Look at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Expedition Handbook and the Oxford Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine for environment specific hazards. Consult with those who have been there before. The Royal Geographical Society is a wealth of information – it houses thousands of expedition reports from those who have been to locations in the past.
Get down to the RGS “Explore” Conference in London (November each year) for workshops, lectures and discussion groups on issues such as risk, environment specific workshops and focus groups.
Seek out commercial providers that can run courses for your expedition teams. Ask lots of questions before choosing.
Larger and more experienced organisations tend to use more sophisticated risk assessment methodology than the HSE ‘5 steps’ method when undertaking Travel Risk Assessments. Standards in the sector are developing in line with the current, topical focus on organisational Duty of Care for businesses sending staff overseas. Thorough organisations will have staff with higher levels of training in the Travel Risk Management field.
Risk Assessments should cover all elements of the venture, from travel to accommodation, and should include aspects such as fire safety, carbon monoxide, security, food, water, health aspects, activities, third party providers and more. It’s a massive subject and needs several days to do it justice. I have recently delivered a Travel Risk Management briefing and safety training session for Cambodia – that itself would exhaust the word count for this article.
Check suitable health information sources well before you go, such as the Nathnac Travel Health Pro website. This is the site travel health professionals will very often consult. It’s a mine of up to date information on vaccinations, travel health risk assessments and more. Well recommended.
Screening expedition participants for illnesses and injuries well before they depart (with a contractual obligation in place for participants to notify you of newly developed illnesses and injuries prior to departure) is an important risk management tool. Forewarned is forearmed.
Secure suitable first aid training from people who are current and experienced and, depending on what you are doing, top cover from a doctor to allow use of prescription only medications (an essay in its own right). Telemedicine options are available.
Some activities may mitigate towards a medical professional (with suitable remote area training and experience) accompanying you (budget permitting).
The FCO website provides useful information regarding overseas destinations. However, the FCO guidance is tempered by wider considerations such as political considerations. Also look at the Australian, Canadian and US information available for a balanced perspective. Various commercial providers can produce bespoke reports and ongoing updates for your destination. Travel intelligence apps are also useful in keeping you up to date with developments while in country.
Environment Specific Training
Secure environment specific training before you go, when merited. This will assist you with securing the wisdom of those who have been there before, thrived (or not) and come out of the environment much the wiser, knowing what works and what doesn’t – as well as what kit is worth buying.
The more remote the terrain and the harsher the environment, the greater the need to invest in the wisdom of the more experienced.
This could involve desert/bush, arctic, altitude, jungle, aquatic and other considerations.
Each environment has its own risk factors – from heat to water risks. Be prepared. You don’t know what you don’t know. Find out, don’t be a headline.
Travel Safety and Security
It is worth investing in travel safety training or at least a book on the subject. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance as the saying goes. Be aware of current scams and problems in your destination country.
Mobile phones have excellent reach but some areas still don’t have coverage. Consider satellite phones (cheaper to hire than buy), two way (satellite communication and texting) trackers such as delorme/garmin inreach. Organisations and individuals have to move with the technology. I have certainly dealt with incidents where adventure providers have been criticised for not keeping up with levels of communications that were considered “good practice” in the location where the incident occurred.
Various travel apps allows you to check in via email or text with friends or family at times you designate in your comms procedure – sending a map depicting your location.
With technology come power considerations. Powerbanks and solar panels have merit depending on environment.
Whether you are a commercial provider or organising an expedition with friends, plan thoroughly, kit, destination, people, have plans for if it all goes wrong, take out insurance, seek advice from experts. This shouldn’t be daunting. It’s one of the most interesting and fun parts. Training forms part of your team building. Enjoy. Go forth. Have Safe Travels.
You can read that first part of this article here: Duty of Care: Matthew Davies at Remote Area Risk International – Adventure Travel: Safety Considerations, Pt 1.
Matthew Davies FRGS is a Travel Risk Management and Remote Area Risk specialist, certified Duty of Care Practitioner – as well as a specialist lawyer within this area. He has over 25 years experience in the field, is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has led expeditions in and trained teams for various environments including desert and arctic circle expeditions. He is a drafting committee for BS:8848. Matthew is a consultant for Remote Area Risk International where he operates as a specialist adviser, Travel Risk Management, Duty of Care and Off Site Safety Management instructor, has experience of working with exploration companies, higher education establishments, expedition providers and expeditioners, adventure travel, search and rescue and NGO’s in the context of field safety. He can be contacted on davies@R2Rinternational.com
Remote Area Risk International – R2Ri, is a specialist provider of Duty of Care training and solutions. The team includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, very experienced specialists in the fields of Travel Risk Management, Remote Area Risk, Environment specific training, Travel Safety, Kidnap Awareness, remote area first aid and medical and intelligence reporting. Team members have significant experience in training and working with exploration, expedition, media, Off Shore and education sector clients. The organisation also undertakes at cost or pro bono work for worthy causes.
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