Risk assessments and trips

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Health and safety
02 November 2016
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess the risks of activities, introduce measure to control those risks and inform their employees of these measures. Employers must ensure that those carrying out risk assessments are competent to do so.

Detailed information about risk assessments can be found on this website's health and safety pages. In addition, the following should be considered when assessing the risks of educational visits:

  • the type of activity
  • the age/competence/fitness/usual standard of behaviour of the students
  • any special educational/medical needs of students
  • adult:student ratios
  • the competence/experience/qualifications of the adults
  • modes of transport, journey routes and location(s) of visits
  • emergency procedures.

Generic risk assessments should consider the risks inherent in the activities to be undertaken and will involve an examination of issues outlined above, identifying the precautions necessary to ensure that risks to health are minimised.

Visit/site specific risk assessments

These consider the risks associated with the particular visit/site, which might include:

  • the medical needs of students – supplies of medication and contingency plans if an adult has to accompany a student to hospital
  • behaviour of students – control measures include a code on rules and behaviour
  • weather conditions – control measures include obtaining local information about tides, potential for flooding and the likelihood of sudden weather changes.

The assessment should always have a pre-assessed 'plan b' for contingencies. For example, what is the 'plan b' if your coach breaks down abroad?

It is good practice for an exploratory visit to form part of the visit/site specific risk assessment, which will assist with pre-planning. If this is not possible information/advice could be sought from others involved in previous visits or from reliable local guides.

Consider involving students in the planning of the visit and risk assessments, so that they are better prepared, will make more informed decisions and be less at risk.

Risk assessments should also be ongoing and dynamic. A reassessment of the risks should be made while the visit is taking place and as the need arises. Risks may need to be reassessed in the light of changing weather, new safety warnings, illnesses, behavioural problems or emergencies.

Activities in or near water

Fatalities in educational visits have tended to occur when students are involved in activities in or near water. Government guidance on group safety around water stresses the importance of completing risk assessments which should take account of:

  • the competence of the group leader and the other adults who will be present
  • adult:student ratios
  • potential hazards, identified through an exploratory visit if possible, or by obtaining as much information as possible by other means
  • the likelihood of someone falling in the water
  • underwater hazards (eg. rocks or strong currents)
  • getting the group in and out of water easily
  • changes in weather
  • tidal conditions.

Group leaders should also have a range of alternative plans in place if arrangements need to be changed for any reason.

Outdoor activity centres

Centres that organise caving, climbing, trekking or water sports for people under the age of 18 must by law be licensed and regularly inspected by the Adventure Activites Licensing Service. The inspection looks in detail at a range of issues including equipment, staff competence and qualifications, and accident and emergency procedures.

The AALS website has advice for group leaders about adventure trips and can put you in touch with a registered activity supplier.

Farm visits

Risks assessments on the taking of students to farms should include hazards associated with E coli 0157 and other infections as well as those arising from the misuse of farm equipment. Precautionary measures include:

  • making sure that students wear appropriate outdoor shoes and clothing
  • covering cuts and grazes on hands with waterproof dressing
  • never allowing students to kiss animals or place their faces against them
  • ensuring that students wash their hands thoroughly before and after eating, after any contact with animals and again before leaving the farm
  • making sure that students do not use or pick up tools (eg. spades and forks) unless permitted to do so by farm staff and that they do not ride on tractors or other machines.

If a member of the group shows signs of ill health after farm visit, they should consult a doctor as soon as possible and explain that they have been in recent contact with animals.

For further information, see guidance on visits to open farms (FACE website).

Foreign language exchanges

Though more difficult to organise, foreign language exchanges have increased in popularity. There is nevertheless public concern about potential dangers of students staying with families in a foreign country. In seeking to minimise these risks, educational establishments should:

  • select a partner school carefully and establish a close line of communication
  • fully brief all accompanying staff, adults and students
  • provide students at both ends of the exchange with literature and maps
  • inform hosting families in writing of any special dietary requirements and that guests should not be taken on hazardous activities (e.g. skiing) without prior consent
  • ensure that emergency procedures are in place.

Contact with host colleagues in the link school should be maintained throughout the exchange. After the exchange has taken place, it should be evaluated, with input from students, staff and host families, with feedback given to the partner school to assist in the planning of future visits.

See also