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Safety, group management, personal responsibility
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TOPIC: Safety, group management, personal responsibility
#376
Safety, group management, personal responsibility 4 Years, 1 Month ago  
I like having discussions on safety and group management periodically. It’s something I think all of us need to be continuously working on.

Skiing deaths always hit me hard. My dad died on his skis and it’s something I think about every time I stand at the top of a line. Skiing, climbing, scrambling, all of these things come with risk. As a trip coordinator/organizer/leader, whatever you want to call it, it can be absolutely terrifying to think that there are people on your trip that perhaps don’t understand or haven’t considered the consequences of where they are and what they’re doing.

The worst thing is that being ‘good’ isn't good enough. Just look at all the injuries in the club this summer – some were mistakes, some were bad luck. You can do everything right and still get nailed out there. Rock fall can happen at any time of day, to anyone. Avalanches can pull on slopes that look totally safe on low avi days. It’s not NO avi, it’s LOW avi.

Personally, I don’t want to ‘lead’ trips. I'm not a guide and I don’t want to ever make decisions for everyone in my party. I’m not qualified to do that, despite the silly gold star next to my name.

I enjoy organizing trips. I’ll pick a destination, something I want to do, I’ll handle logistics, booking accommodations, arranging car pools. I’ll even happily be the most experienced person in the party, I'm happy to lend my experience to less seasoned groups. At the end of the day though, I feel that we all need to be making decisions for ourselves. I think that we need to have a culture of personal responsibility, because anything else is a burden too great to put on an amateur, volunteer ‘leader’. If we are on a ski trip, I want every person looking at the snow pits. I want every person engaged in the group decisions on safety.

Beginner trips are a tricky one. What do you do when the party members have no experience except for the ‘coordinator’? For me, and I can only speak for myself on all of this, I think you have to pick very mellow destinations, you need to have at least a couple of experienced party members, and I think you need to at very least explain absolutely every single decision that you are making. Why you are taking that route, what you are learning from the snow pack, how you are setting up a rap. I figure if I can’t effectively explain why I'm doing something, then I shouldn't be doing it.

So what does the rest of the club think? Are we Leaders? Coordinators? How much should we be stressing personal responsibility for safety? How do you safely run beginner trips in a way that keeps everyone involved in their own safety? Do we even have an obligation to do so?
Phil Tomlinson
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#377
Re:Safety, group management, personal responsibility 4 Years, 1 Month ago  
Phil, you raise some very important points and I think we can break the discussion into three distinct issues:
1) How should trips be organized?
2) What should the leadership structure of a club trip look like?
3) How do the individuals on a group trip evaluate and judge risk?
Our historic solution has been to lump all 3 questions onto a person designated as the "trip leader". Officially, participants bear no inherent responsibility other than to do as they are told by the designated "trip leader". The "trip leader" organizes the trip, provides leadership on the trip and is suppose to have the skills and knowledge to evaluate risk and make safe judgement calls on behalf of everyone on the trip. This is a ludicrous burden to bear for one volunteer and is unfair for the "trip leader". I know this causes great frustration for many good "trip leaders" who have worked with less onerous structures with equal or better success.

This structure has been in place for years, but has many holes. An obvious hole is that someone who wants to organize a trip (point #1), must then take on the burden of points #2 and #3. In reality, the leadership role often falls onto the most experienced person on the trip regardless of designation, and there is no reason why the organizer of the trip must also be the trip leader (except that the trip leader handbook clearly states that they must be the same person).

However, the primary reason why the "trip leader" concept falls apart is point number #3, and that is risk assessment. The mountains are a dangerous place and many people are hurt and killed doing things within the ACC's mandate every year, regardless of skill level and training. The mountains will never be a "safe" place as judged by your average Canadian. Risk is a personal choice, and can not be outsourced to someone else. Therefore, each individual must be able to evaluate the risk, and judge it acceptable or not for themselves.

Furthermore, safety management is best done as a team. Everyone on the trip needs to contribute to the safety of the group, not because of liability, but because it actually makes the entire trip safer, reducing the risk for every single person on the trip.

The ACC's accident record is a good reminder that bad things do happen and happen often. The status quo is not acceptable. The best way to improve safety is a change of culture from a "leader" and "participant/follower" mentality to something that gets everyone on the trip involved in the groups safety. This can be done through improving the training of everyone on the trip to better recognize and mitigate hazards and for everyone on the trip to feel obligated to speak-up when they see increased risk.

We still need leadership on club trips. The trip leader is the individual who facilitates discussion and risk management. However, they do not make the decisions, the group makes the decisions. The leader tends to be the most experienced person and will keep an eye out for the safe travel of the group, but so should every single participant to the best of their abilities.

In summary:
The ACC needs to take actions to improve its safety record. This can be achieved in a number of ways:
-Making safety a group activity and getting the entire group involved
-Providing better training to both participants and leaders. Participants need to have the ability to identify and evaluate risk (does everyone on a ski trip have AST1?). Individuals who take on the leadership role can often benefit from soft skill training so that they can better facilitate group discussions and decisions(has everyone had a chance to poke around in the snow pit? Did everyone see the 2.5 slide on Mount Fatality?, etc)
-Keep an accident database, fully discuss incidents and disseminate the information to the entire club.
-Build a culture where everyone feels comfortable voicing their concerns. If the risk exceeds someones tolerance, can the risk be mitigated? If not, it is probably time to go home.
-Update the trip leader handbook to become a member handbook and clearly outline the club goals of making safety management a group activity.

The club needs good organizers, the club needs good trip leaders and the club needs good group dynamics that promote good group decisions. We should address each of these points individually and thoroughly. I can not guarantee that the above action items will make the club safer. However, I believe that the action items are logical and worth a shot.
Matthew Breakey
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Last Edit: 2014/10/07 20:40 By 66876.
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#378
Re:Safety, group management, personal responsibility 4 Years, 1 Month ago  
Phil, very interesting topic and one that we broached at the Board meeting last evening. We are now on the road to forming a Safety Committee, which should at least help in spearheading these and other "safety" concerns. I find it interesting that we haven't formed such a committee in our history...can't think of why that might be the case. At any rate, that will soon be academic.

A number of items were brought up during that discussion and some good points were made. Among them was the identification of a need for compiling incident reports for all to see and learn from. Another was to make the Trip "Coordinator" Handbook, more generic, to turn it into a "Member" handbook. This last point has been discussed in the recent past and was on the agenda to be done. In addition, the need for the distribution of responsibility onto all participants was talked about. Unfortunately, in the past, there has been an emphasis on Trip Coordinators being Trip "Leaders". Those two terms, however, are not interchangeable and the risk with allowing their interchangeability is that the coordinator then is expected to be the "leader" and shoulder a disproportionate load of responsibility. That can work for some leaders and not for others, on some days and not others. In addition, some leaders have the soft skills and the demeanor to effectively distribute that responsibility, involving the participants in the decision making and providing an atmosphere of trust, not only trust in hard skills but trust in their soft skills. Trust in a coordinator's soft skills is critical and allows others the requisite "social courage" - the feeling of freedom to question the trajectory of a given trip.

As well, there are some participants who are better able to assert themselves on a trip than others. As individuals gain experience in the mountains, their confidence builds and their ability to question and vocalize those questions increases. I believe that our Trip Coordinators need to not take the job of "leader" in all matters, but ensure that all participants understand that they have input to how the day unfolds. That ability to allow those questions freely and openly, requires confidence as well and the ability to relinquish the "leader" role in some aspects of the trip. The "leader" mentality depends on personal characteristics. As a club we need to better communicate that those that post the events are generally leaders in some respects but ultimately the responsibility for everyone's safety lies with each individual. That notion needs to be absorbed by all parties.

With regard to run beginner trips in a way that keeps everyone involved in their own safety, you ask if we have an obligation to do so. What you mean by that is do we have the obligation to keep everyone involved in their own safety, I believe. I don't think there can be any other answer than an unmitigated yes....if I understand you correctly.

At any rate, this is a complex question, but always an interesting one and, likely always an open, evolving one.
David Roe
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