A step-by-step guide for teachers
School camps are a wonderful opportunity to relax, revive and connect with students. But there is also a serious side to camps and excursions. Stringent occupational health, safety and welfare requirements apply to school camps and teachers, parents and caregivers need to prepare for all manner of potential situations to legally cover themselves and their school.
So how do you get the best from your camp while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students, parents and teachers alike?
Good preparation is the key – before, during and after your camp or excursion – and adhering to guidelines set down by education and health authorities in each state and territory.
By planning ahead and taking necessary precautions tailored to the type of camp you are holding, the expected weather forecast, anticipated hazards, and the size and skill level of your group (and those leading the group) you will give your camp the best chance of success.
And that means that everyone can relax and get the most from their experience!
Planning For Success
Okay, you've decided where you're going, for how long and the type of camp you want to hold. So what next?
The first step is to look at the guidelines around camps and excursions that apply to your state. Departments of Education in each state and territory have policies and procedures that teachers and caregivers must follow when preparing camp itineraries and activities.
The guidelines are designed to ensure that:
• Teachers and caregivers understand their duty of care towards students and other camp participants.
• Camps adhere to appropriate occupational, health and welfare requirements.
• Children with disabilities are not discriminated against
• Activities reflect the National Junior Sports Policy.
Remember that the risk management process you instigate in the months and weeks leading up to camp should take a collaborative approach, so that a wide range of perspectives are taken into account. By allowing students to shoulder some responsibility for camp, and therefore responsibility for the camp's success or failure, they are likely to show more commitment.
One of the key aims of participating in activities such as camps and excursions is to encourage students/children to develop responsible attitudes. They should therefore be involved, depending on age and maturity, in as many facets of planning as possible, ranging from food and clothing requirements to strategies for minimising environmental impact.
If at all possible, it is recommended you undertake a site visit in the months leading up to camp. The site visit will allow you and other key staff members to ensure that the camp you have planned will satisfy OHS&W requirements.
Your site visit can take into account:
• The breadth and quality of facilities available at camp.
• The area's local terrain and expected weather conditions at the time you will visit.
• Communication systems in place at the camp, ie. telephone, internet, two-way radio system.
• Potential hygiene issues.
• Potential problems or hazards, e.g. old mine shafts and quarries, hazardous water, snakes, spiders, European wasps, flash floods, bushfire prone, cliff collapse or rock falls.
• Necessary equipment required for the safety and comfort of all participants.
• Access and safety for any participants with special needs.
• Appropriateness of activities and equipment required to achieve planned student learning outcomes.
• A suitable means of accessing medical and emergency services.
• Strategies for enacting an emergency evacuation plan or any other contingency plans.
• The safety of playgrounds and structures, such as obstacle courses and low ropes challenge courses.
Once you have undertaken a site visit you will be better placed to develop a contingency plan.
It is critical that you have a well thought out contingency plan in place. Remember: even the best laid plans can go awry!
Your contingency plan should cover a wide cross section of scenarios. For example, it is critical that your contingency plan has strategies in place to cope with minor and major injury, illness or other crises.
While plans will vary in detail according to the complexity of the crisis, the location and the mix of leadership team members and students/children, they must cover the following:
• Telephone numbers and locations of emergency services and the fastest and most efficient way of contacting them.
• Emergency evacuation plans covering storms, bushfires, floods, accidents etc.
• A strategic plan to action should a student or teacher become lost, injured or ill.
• Means of communicating with the school contact person.
• First aid provisions.
• Suitable health and personal care support to students with individual needs.
• Access and availability of the nearest suitable transport.
• The distance and potential time the party will be from medical help should it be required - and the best method of obtaining it.
Remember to leave a copy of your contingency plan, together with your camp itinerary, list of participants and relevant medical information with appropriate local authorities.
DID YOU KNOW THAT
Organisations such as the Australian Camps Association (ACA) offer accreditation schemes that include an independent and comprehensive evaluation of site standards, safety and hygiene.
Teachers and caregivers also need to take into account the skill level of the student group they are escorting on camp. Making activities too challenging for the age and skill level of students will not only spoil the fun element of camp, but will also increase the risk of injury. Likewise, a camp that is not challenging enough could soon see your student group bored and uninspired – and looking for opportunities to spice things up!
As part of your pre-camp planning, assess your students' capacity in relation to the type of camp you will be undertaking, the conditions you may encounter on camp, the cultural requirements of students and the medical fitness of your group (ie. taking into account students with conditions such as asthma or epilepsy).
Alternative activities or extra support must be arranged for those students who wish to take part in the excursion but do not have the prerequisite skills for the planned activity.
Camps and Excursions Guidelines for Schools and Preschools
The WA Department of Education's policy and guidelines for educational excursions
Remember that you are required to report 'incidents' that occur on camp. An incident is generally something that causes disruption to the excursion, creates a danger or risk that could significantly affect individuals participating in the camp, impacts on the effective operation of the camp, attracts negative media attention or is an incident deemed by WorkCover to be a 'serious incident' which must be reported by law.