Having worked in a number of different industries prior to teaching and instructing, where an issue of safety arose it was expected that it would be acted upon. Unfortunately, that expectation is apparently absent from a number of members of the outdoor community. When I, or anyone-else, employ a contractor to provide a service, it is a minimum expectation that the person is competent to deliver the service that they're contracted to. So, what happens when a contractor isn't competent to deliver what they're contracted to? Usually, the disappointed client uses whatever redress they can afford... Fantastic, but what happens when it's a group of young people in a potentially hazardous environment? Well, there's AALA for activities delivered by commercial companies within AALA's remit of responsibility for certain activities. The problems arise when the activities are outside of the AALA remit or when the institutions delivering aren't responsible to AALA.
There have been a number of tragedies involving young people where the competence of the leadership has been identified as being a major factor in the incident. How can competence be defined? Well, the Health and Safety Executive has identified four pathways to demonstrate competence:-
- Formal National Governing Body Qualification
- Equivalent qualification
- Specific training
To return to the members of the outdoor community who believe that ticket-wielding instructors are a threat to traditional freedoms of introducing others to the enjoyment of the mountains and hills, it seems that there is little real difference between their views and those of the community who provide professional services (irrespective of whether your view of professionalism reflects an exchange of payment for those services), what both seek is competent leadership. What is different is the awareness of the constraints that operate upon professionals, namely insurance, litigation and the expectations of the judicial system.
The move by many educational institutions towards National Governing Body Qualifications has, as its root, the need to show an independent and accepted standard is in use. Prior to this, the situation varied from institution and between local authorities. Good practice existed but it was not consistent across the education sector. The local authority depended upon its in-house expert advisers, themselves often recruited from the commercial sector, to ensure that standards were being met and that activities were being run as safely as possible. As local authorities have moved to reduce their costs by reducing their staffing, so these expert services have been placed under considerable pressure. In their place, institutions have resorted to using non-experts trained under generic schemes such as the Educational Visits Coordinator; here, the results are inconsistent as the experience required to identify hazards is missing or misapplied. The perception is of a safer system but experience suggests otherwise.
It's worth remembering that systems change according to the pressures placed upon them and the expectation of 'professionalism' has the potential to achieve this. It is up to all involved in the industry to ensure that this drives the agenda, not the fear of litigation. Of course, underlying this entire debate is the importance of honesty...and personal responsibility to act on concerns of safety.