Rules support lawsuits. Education supports the program.

The longer I work in this industry, the more I believe a couple of things.

1.     We can’t keep people safe or accident free. Any program anyone advocating this position is ignoring the realities of life.

        You can have the safest ropes’ course or zip line in the world, and someone can fall down on the stairs leading to the first element. You can bubble wrap a kid and stick him in a padded room, and he can get hurt. Stick two kids in the room and both will get hurt.

        This does not mean you should not attempt to run a safe program within industry standards. What it means is the industry standards and the “people” promoting them should accept the realities of life.

        If you are working with someone promising to make your program safe, they are lying to you. Remember you have a first-aid kit at home and most people die in the bathroom. People are going to get hurt in your program at some point if you are running long enough.

2.     Since people get hurt no matter what we do, we might as well be prepared for it. Prepared means you and them. Prepared means knowing the most likely reasons why and how people get hurt at your program. Prepared means have the appropriate first-aid kit and training. However, your preparation is not enough.

        Your guests need to be prepared also.

3.     The best way to keep people from getting hurt is to educate them. Padding, protecting and eliminating only goes so far. People fall getting into and out of their cars in your parking lot. You can pad our parking lot, or you can know it is going to happen and be prepared.

        People, hopefully, know their cars and parking lots. However, you program is a big blank in their knowledge inventory. If they get hurt getting out of their car, they can get hurt getting into your boat, into your harness, into any part of your program. People get hurt before the program begins and yet 99% of the work to keep people safe, we all (including me) do is just about the program.

        (At the same time writing an article about the dangers of sidewalks or parking lot risks is just not fun.)

4.     Rules (laws), regulations and industry standards don’t work. The number-one reason they don’t work is your customers don’t know or understand them. On top of that they don’t know or understand what the rules are supposed to do or why. The more rules you make for your program the more ways you set yourself up for a lawsuit. The more an industry works to make standards/regulations the more ways your participant can break one with no idea what why or how.

        Your risk management manual, emergency plan or other such as documents are probably more helpful to the plaintiff in a lawsuit than to your defense.

Rules support lawsuits. Education supports the program.

Concentrate on educating your customers then. This does not mean to ignore changes in the industry that might make the program safer. This means that you can do more to keep someone’s safe if they understand how they are going to get hurt.

The legal principle of assumption of the risk was based on this. If you knew what you were getting into and got hurt you could not sue. This still holds true in most states for sports or recreational activities.

More importantly you are doing your customers a better service of educating them rather than threatening them. (Most releases contain several threats if you read them.)

Even better and ignoring the legal issues, participants who understand what they are getting into will have a better time. Their chances of getting hurt will be reduced and consequently, the entire trip will be better with no injuries. Your guests can reach for their goals of entertainment, enjoyment or growth and still present a great program to them.

·         Education is better than a threat. It worked for you.

·         Education is better than a release; one lasts forever, and the other one is hopefully never used.

·         Education shows you care, not that you don’t care.

Make your program safe but make your guests or participants knowledgeable. Help them understand their safety, their risk and their responsibility to keep themselves safe.

You and your program will be better off, and your guests will have been more fun.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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By Recreation Law         James H. Moss



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