Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education Fatalities in Australia 1960-2002. Part 2. Contributing Circumstances: Supervision, First Aid, and Rescue

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education Fatalities in Australia 1960-2002. Part 2. Contributing Circumstances: Supervision, First Aid, and Rescue

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper, the second in a series, presents a partial analysis of outdoor education fatalities in Australia. It examines outdoor education related fatalities in Australia in the period 1960-2002 with a view to understanding how fatality prevention measures can be improved. The fatal incidents are reviewed from the perspectives of supervision, first aid, and rescue. The paper draws attention to particular supervision considerations around water, to the special case of unsupervised teenage boys around moving water or cliffs, and to the importance of planning for the possibility of the death of one or more supervisors. The analysis found evidence that underlines the importance of frequent CPR practice, but little to suggest that inadequate first aid had been a factor in any death. The study emphasises the importance of planning to ensure that medical aid can be obtained promptly, and presents a number of imperatives relating to rescue using a group's own resources, or with outside assistance.

In a previous paper (Brookes, 2003a) I discussed the role of case studies in developing fatality prevention strategies in outdoor education, and provided a summary of outdoor education related fatalities in Australia since 1960. I provided a brief description of each incident, grouped by immediate circumstance. Drawing on information on public record (mainly Coroners' reports and newspaper reports) I examined 114 fatalities. Two were homicides and seven were from natural causes. The accidental deaths were grouped as followed: Drowning in lakes or pools (12); drowning in moving water (18); drowning in open water (11); falls (8); falling objects (24); fire/lightning (4); hypothermia (5); motor vehicle related (23). In the current paper I extend the consideration of circumstances to supervision, first aid, and rescue.

I have used the term 'supervision' to emphasise a particular responsibility of teachers to care for students in the outdoors, which is not necessarily identical to the responsibility that outdoor recreation instructors or leaders may have. Some (but not all) of the incidents studied are best understood in a broad context of care for students in the outdoors rather than in the narrower context of the conduct or management of specific outdoor recreation activities. A number of the incidents occurred around the edges of structured recreational activities.

Lay attribution of cause to outdoor education fatalities tends to emphasise either 'freak' accidents or human error, especially on the part of supervisors. 'Operator error' figures prominently in accident analysis in many fields, for several reasons:

1. A common bias towards perceiving and emphasising actors rather than situations. The sources of the bias are probably cultural and psychological (Ross & Nisbett, 1991).

2. There is often better evidence describing the actions of individuals than there is evidence which would permit one to reconstruct physical environments, dynamic social situations, or the psychology of the actors.

3. Attributing cause to human error on the part of someone directly involved in an incident is simpler than reviewing and understanding a wider set of circumstances (Perrow, 1999).

I have attempted to separate supervision from other duties or expectations of supervisors (for example special knowledge of particular environments). In practice it may be hard to separate supervision from other considerations, such as the knowledge and expertise a supervisor might have as teacher, leader, or instructor. I will consider the environmental circumstances of fatal incidents in a separate paper, along with consideration of broader organisational and conceptual aspects of fatality prevention.

First aid and rescue relate to the immediate aftermath of an incident. I have considered first aid specifically because it is an area in which the outdoor education profession has invested considerable time and effort. …

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