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Risk management

A Risk Management Plan must accompany every outdoor education approval form.

The biggest risk of all is not to take any risks at all

A structured risk management process

  • identifies risks
  • assesses the likelihood and consequences of risks occurring and
  • identifies risk treatment activities to lower risks to acceptable levels (e.g. from an 'extreme' or 'high' risk to a 'medium' or 'low' risk).

Risk and opportunity go hand in hand.

An important part of the risk management process is the identification of opportunities that would not be realised without balancing risks with potential gains.

Additional important points to remember about the risk management process:

  • The process is best undertaken collaboratively with key stakeholders and participants so that different perspectives are brought into the process.
  • The process should be applied to all elements of the proposed activity, not just to the scheduled adventure activities (e.g. factors such as the risk of bad publicity to the school, additional costs to parents or impact on the general public might also be considered).
  • The process must be communicated to all staff and volunteers involved in the excursion.
  • Students may gain from being involved in the process during the excursion's planning and risk assessment phases.
  • The process must be dynamic, as risks and treatment actions change constantly. Risks should be reviewed post-excursion, and the risk management plan updated based on achieved learning. A re-appraisal of risks is needed if the excursion is repeated in the future.


The risk management plan

A risk management plan must accompany every outdoor education approval form.

On the Risk management template risks that could affect the activity and/or participants should be listed and relevant treatment actions identified. Additional risk treatment actions ensures that risks are reduced to acceptable levels.


Risk management process

Risk management cycle chart

The risk management cycle outlines the process involved in the management of risks and the development of a risk management plan.

Risk management is an internal process, and is often done subconsciously. In its simplest form, it asks three questions:

  1. What's the risk?
  2. What happens if the risk (event) occurs?
  3. What should I do about it?

The risk management cycle is a slightly more structured process consisting of seven steps. However, the above principles still apply:

  1. Establish the context
  2. Identify risks
  3. Analyse risks
  4. Evaluate risks
  5. Treat risks
  6. Monitor and review
  7. Communicate and consult

Preparing a simple risk management plan is unlikely to take more than one or two hours. Among the main advantages of having a plan are: having a far safer and more educational activity, a greater chance of gaining approval and, worst case scenario, a defence in Law.


Step 1 - Establish the context

Think about the broad issues associated with the excursion. Ask yourself and key participants:

  • Why are you planning this excursion: what are its educational objectives?
  • Where are you going to and when?
  • What are you are going do when you get there?
  • Who are you going there with?
  • Who would be affected if something went wrong?


  • Think about the excursion and potential risks and their impacts in the wider context, including potential effects on teachers, participants, school, DoE the community (or even your career!).
  • Be aware of the wider environment as there are many risks that could affect others outside of the group. For example, think about 'bad press' for the Department if an ill prepared party that had not conducted a risk assessment got lost in the bush.
  • Participating members must be thoroughly familiar with the proposed excursion and have read and understood relevant guidelines.

Support materials:


Step 2 - Identify the risks

Read and/or complete all documents relevant to the planning and approval of the excursion.

In column B (Risk) of the risk register (Risk management template), list all risks that could jeopardise the event. The list should include risks to participants, school, the DoE and the community etc.

Twenty to thirty risks will probably be enough to complete a comprehensive risk assessment. Concentrate on the 'big' risks, e.g. 'loss of a participant's mobile or pocket money' would not warrant inclusion.


  • Best done in a workshop situation involving representatives from participants and other stakeholders.
  • Note again that the biggest risk is often that the Opportunities that are not being realised!


The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis'. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity. (John F. Kennedy)

Support materials:


Step 3 - Analyse risks

In this step, risks are rated in terms of 'likelihood' and 'consequence' which, if combined, provide one of the four risk ratings of 'extreme', 'high', 'medium' and 'low' for every risk.

There are two stages in this step.

Stage 1

For every risk listed, determine what the outcome would be if the risk (or event) occurred, and record it under 'outcome' (column C). These are the 'What If…?' questions.

A single risk may have many outcomes, e.g. 'injury to student', 'cancellation of future events', or 'Ministerial inquiry' etc.

Stage 2
The risk rating must take into consideration risk treatments that are already in place.

Determine the 'likelihood' of, and 'consequence' arising from an incident, and insert a number from 1 to 5 in columns E and F (Refer to the 'Risk rating' sheet on the template).

The 'likelihood' refers to an event/risk occurring during that particular activity. For example, if there is a 'one in five' chance of and event/risk occurring in a given excursion, it should be noted as a '2' (unlikely).

A similar process applies to 'consequences'. For example, for an event/risk resulting in the death of a participant, the figure '4' should be inserted in column F. Combining the numbers 2 (likelihood) and 4 (consequence) provides us with a risk rating 'medium' in this case.

The following is a sample of events that would determine the rating of consequence; for more sample events please go to the 'Risk rating' sheet on the template:








Minor injury requiring first aid (Personal Injury)

Injured person stays away from school for a little while (Personal Injury)

Severe injury, followed by hospitalisation and long recovery period (Personal Injury)

Death of participant (Personal Injury)

Multiple deaths (Personal Injury)

Loss of inexpensive equipment (Property)

Equipment can be replaced, but will cost the school (Property)

Equipment can be replaced, but will cost a lot (Property)

Might be possible to replace equipment, but only at considerable cost (Property)

Irretrievable loss (Property)

Small additional expense (Budget)

Significant cost to the school (Budget)

School might have to ask for additional funds, or insurance claim (Budget)

Financial assistance required from Central Office (Budget)

High value insurance claim (Budget)

Incident will be talked about by participants, but no further (Reputation)

Event covered by the media, and some questions are being asked (Reputation)

GM TLS / Secretary will have to answer questions from Minister or the media (Reputation)

Some parents may pull students out of school. Future events cancelled (Reputation)

'Heads will Roll' (Reputation)

Once the likelihood and consequences rating are determined, we can progress to the rating of risks in column G.

Support materials:


Step 4 - Evaluate risks

In this step, determine what risks and risk levels you are prepared to 'live with' and those that require further treatment. Ultimately, we should endeavour to reduce the number of risks to be treated to no more than 10.

It is not possible to treat all risks. No matter what risk treatment actions are implemented there are always risks we must be prepared to accept (the 'residual risk').

It isn't possible to live without risk - the biggest risk to life is being alive!

In this step we make a conscious decision which risks/events we are going to:

  • avoid
  • treat further (because the risk level is unacceptably high) or
  • accept

Note that acceptance of risk levels is a subjective activity ('risk appetite') and must take into consideration factors such as the environment, the expertise of the instructor and the age and developmental level of participants.

For example, a risk acceptable for a small group of Year 10 students may not be acceptable for a primary class.

Activities with risks which, after taking into consideration existing treatment actions, are identified as 'extreme' must not be undertaken without further treatment actions.

Risks rated 'high' should also receive further treatment.

Activities with risks rated 'medium' may be attempted as they are; though excursion leaders and school principals should feel comfortable and knowingly accept such risks.

Risks rated 'low' can generally be taken without further treatment.

The following tables illustrate the priorities to be applied in treating risks.

Risk Treatment Priority Table


Almost Certain (5)






Likely (4)






Possible (3)






Unlikely (2)






Rare (1)







First Aid (1)

Time off (2)

Hospital (3)

Death (4)

Multiple Deaths (5)


Consequence *

The following table provides a guide to recommended treatment action for risks rated at the four levels.


Activity must not go ahead without significant modifications to make them safer


Risks should receive further treatment, or reasons should be given why no further treatment activities are proposed


Risks should receive further treatment, or reasons should be given why no further treatment activities are proposed


Activity safe to go ahead without further modification - monitor the risks


Step 5 - Treat risk

Risk treatment aims at reducing the likelihood and/or consequences of events/risks to an acceptable, lower level.

For example, the risk of someone suffering hypothermia in a beach related event would most likely be rated 'likely' (4) but, through treating the risk by ensuring all participants must wear a wetsuit, the likelihood can be reduced to 'unlikely' (2).

Proposed risk treatment actions should be recorded in column H, as should be the additional cost, the name of the person responsible for implementing the action, and the time line (I and J).


  • Ensure that the cost/effort in implementing a treatment action does not exceed its intended benefits.

Support materials:


Step 6 - Monitor and review

Even though Steps 6 and 7 are described separately, they are an integral part of every step of the Risk management cycle.

Risks by their nature undergo constant changes due to an ever changing physical environment and technology, changing community perceptions, amended DoE guidelines and policies and the implementation of risk specific treatment actions.

Monitoring and review of risks therefore is a never ending activity.


  • Review the risk management pan after the activity, involving key participants. Record the learning arising from the activity.
  • Use the information gained in future activities.


Step 7 - Communicate and consult

Sharing information is an important part of risk management, because many of the identified risks and treatments are common to other activities.

Consultation with key stakeholders in a risk management process always brings different perspectives and helps ensure that a broader range of activities are possible.

Communication of a completed risk management plan to the school principal or Learning Services will enhance the chances of approval of the intended activity, as it demonstrates that risks had been considered and pro-active steps taken to ensure a safe activity.

Finally, participating in conducting a risk management plan can be a highly engaging and productive learning activity for all participants.


Who should use what risk register?

There are two registers that should be used, depending on the planned activity and the skills/experience of the teacher.

  1. Minor excursions (e.g. urban areas, areas with mobile coverage, Botanical Gardens, cinemas etc) and teachers engaged in outdoor education activities should use Checklist and Risk Management Plan for Minor Excursions and Experienced Teachers of Predominately Outdoor Subjects

  2. One-off activities, activities attempted for the first time, or activities undertaken by non-specialist outdoor education and/or major excursions, with a certain level of inherent risk, remote areas and overnight activities Interstate and overseas activities require approval General risk management template.
To prevent re-invention of the wheel, teachers can submit risk plans that they have developed. The plans will be listed here.


More information