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Assess underlying factors to create a safe but challenging experience

This is an excerpt from Integrated Risk Management for Leisure Services eBook by Robert B. Kauffman & Merry Lynn Moiseichik.

Integrating Underlying Factors and Accident Process

For a recreation leader or programmer, the question is how to transform either model into practice. One approach is to use the risk management process described in chapter 8. The easiest approach is to examine the activity or program in terms of potential effect of each of the human, environmental, and equipment factors (i.e., the underlying factors discussed in chapter 6) and determine which elements contribute to the overall experience and which do not. A leader should look for incongruence between the risks involved in the activity (underlying factors) and the experience he seeks to create in the activity or program. He should avoid creating a situation that would fall into the high actual risk and low perceived risk category in the 2 × 2 risk matrix. For example, a heat alert is issued for the same time that an outdoor concert is scheduled. The heat alert affects the selection of a backup date in case of postponement (underlying factors: weather, preplanning). If heat alerts are problematic, the leader should consider taking compensatory measures such as providing shaded sites, free bottled water, or refunds (underlying factor: implied physical or physiological capabilities or stress). Or, although site selection is likely limited, the leader might consider reserving an indoor arena that is air conditioned (underlying factor: weather). These actions help reduce the actual risks present in the event. Also, these actions demonstrate how the accident process and the underlying factors can be used in the planning process.


In the adventure experience paradigm, a leader determines which elements contribute to the overall activity in terms of the level of challenge a participant seeks. The leader must manage these elements to ensure that they remain consistent with the skill level of the participants. For example, on a high ropes course, the element of height is used to create a sense of challenge. The belay system is used to provide an adequate level of safety on the course (underlying factor: adequate or appropriate equipment). On a rafting trip, the type and nature of the rapids are used to create a sense of challenge. Using a predetermined route through the rapids helps manage passage through the rapids to create a safer experience (underlying factor: preplanning and travel speed).


The leader must also determine which elements of the program do not contribute to the activity in terms of the level of challenge the participant seeks. In terms of the experience, these elements are not apparent to the participant. Using the underlying factors, the leader should manage, reduce, or eliminate the effect of these factors. For example, the wear and tear on the belay rope used on the high ropes course is not an element that contributes to the challenge the experience provides (underlying factor: inadequate maintenance or wear and tear). This element is managed to minimize unwanted risks. In the rafting example, the communication between raft guides, the order of rafts through the trip, and spacing between rafts do not directly contribute to the challenge but do contribute to safety (underlying factor: leadership and group dynamics). These elements are managed to minimize potential harmful effects.


Although not technically necessary, a simple next step is to integrate the accident models—the Curtis model, the risk meter, or the domino model—into the discussion. A leader or programmer can use these accident models to assess the program elements in terms of the underlying factors and to create a safe but challenging experience for the participants.

Learn more about Integrated Risk Management for Leisure Services.