Risk management for public entities: Summer camps and programs

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Addressing public safety risks is essential when planning and delivering day and overnight camps. There is a range of risks that need to be considered depending on the types of activities being offered, the age of the camp participants, and other factors related to lodging and transportation. However, many of these risks can be addressed through the implementation of a comprehensive risk management plan to keep camp participants, staff, and volunteers safe. Additionally, managing these risks can assist you in meeting the legal requirements of operating summer camps and programs in certain jurisdictions.

The following guidance highlights key areas of consideration when developing and implementing a risk management plan for summer camps and programs. It should not be seen as an exhaustive list and should be used in conjunction with your internal policies and procedures as well as in compliance with local laws and regulations.

Agreements and waivers

Operators will need to inform participants and parents/legal guardians of the activities the camp provides, as well as the respective risks associated with participating in those activities. This information should be contained within the agreement and waiver forms that are often included as part of the registration package. The operators should thoroughly explain each activity, supervision, expectations from participant, and what the operator will and will not be responsible for during the activity. The agreements and waivers should include the following:

  • The specific activities that will be offered at the camp
  • The supervision for each specific activity
  • The roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers during each activity
  • The roles and responsibilities of participants during each activity
  • The consequences if roles and responsibilities of the attendees are not met
  • The equipment that attendees are required to bring for each activity (for example, baseball gloves)
  • The risks associated with participating in each activity
  • The ability of attendees to opt-in and opt-out for ach activity

The agreements and waivers must be signed and kept on file before any participation in any activity or the camp.

Personnel and supervision

Operators will need to consider the requirements, roles, and responsibilities for their supervisors, staff, and volunteers. It is important to decide what these will be and how staff and volunteers will be evaluated, so they can then be clearly communicated. Please check your local laws and regulations to inform your staffing structure and certification requirements.

  • Decide on a staff structure. Consider drafting an organization chart outlining all the roles you plan to fill and their hierarchy so that you can help prevent any supervisory and staffing gaps.
  • Create personnel standards and role descriptions that outline the minimum qualifications necessary to work or volunteer at the camp. Operators should address the following items for each position:
    • Minimum age, skills, and experience to fulfill roles and responsibilities
    • Minimum certification and first aid training, such as CPR training
    • Minimum seasonal or annual training required to perform all duties
    • Required dress code or uniforms
  • Design a process for screening applicants and verifying references. For all staff and volunteer personnel, operators should conduct interviews and background and police checks. Pay special attention to:
    • Employment history
    • Experience working with children
    • Criminal background

Be sure to verify this information and maintain copies of each staff and volunteer member’s applications, licenses, and certifications on file.

  • Set performance standards and expectations for staff and volunteers, as well as a system to evaluate and document them. Try to be specific, measurable, and realistic. Establish how often performance reviews will be done and the consequences for not meeting expectations.
  • Develop supervision practices and standards for all camp staff, volunteers, participants, and activities:
    • Review supervision requirements of all camp activities, travel between activities, free time, and meals.
    • Designate supervision station locations, walking patrols, and schedules to help enable an immediate response should a child require assistance
    • Establish emergency protocols in case a staff member or volunteer must be called away from duty to respond to an individual child’s needs
    • Develop standardized documentation practices.
  • Establish a manual for all staff and volunteers that contains pertinent information explaining their roles and responsibilities and how their performance will be evaluated:
    • All relevant policies and procedures required to fulfill their roles and responsibilities on a daily basis
    • All facility supervision and operational requirements
    • All operating and emergency plans and procedures
  • Make sure that all supervisory staff, staff, and volunteers review and acknowledge their understanding of the requirements contained in the staff manual. File the acknowledgement accordingly.

Site inspection

Operators will need to develop a camp inspection and maintenance plan prior to the arrival of participants or delivery of activities. The inspection plan should include targeted reviews of the following camp areas to identify safety hazards:

  • Outdoor
    • Remove or fix any slip, trip, or fall hazards
    • Remove any garbage, broken glass, and other debris
    • Remove any protruding objects (for example, chain link fencing and fence screens)
    • Check that field lighting is projecting appropriate level of lumens/brightness
    • Maintain and clean high-usage areas, such as entrances, exits, and stairs, regularly
    • Eliminate access to any areas that are deemed to be hazardous or off-property
  • Indoor
    • Remove or fix any slip, trip, or fall hazards
    • Conduct fire safety inspection by confirming the following:
      • Check for fire hazards and immediately address any identified hazard
      • Exit hallways are unobstructed
      • Exit doors are accessible
      • Exit signs are visible and illuminated
    • Confirm that top bunk bed have rails in place to help prevent accidental falls
    • Maintain high-usage areas regularly
  • Equipment
    • Conduct regular inspection of all activity equipment to verify that they are in satisfactory working condition, developmentally appropriate, and accessible:
      • Check all equipment for excessive wear and tear
      • Repair or remove all damaged or defective equipment
      • Verify that any hazardous materials required for camp maintenance, such as gasoline or paint, are stored in a properly vented and locked building inaccessible to unauthorized individuals
    • Instruct all necessary participants, staff, and volunteers on how to correctly use the equipment

The plan should also specify how frequently regular inspections of these areas are to be done, who is responsible for doing them, and how they will be documented.

Emergency management

Operators will need to have an emergency plan that clearly outlines the steps to take in response to an emergency incident. The emergency plan needs to be clearly documented and readily accessible. The appropriate training must be provided to supervisory staff, subordinate staff and volunteers who are involved in the camp.

  • Emergency plan
    • Establish a plan that clearly outlines response activities for emergencies ranging from minor (such as simple first aid) to major (such as serious injury, drowning). It should contain specific procedures to address incidents including, but not limited to:
    • Missing person
    • Medical
    • Drowning
    • Fire
    • Weather
    • Evacuation

The emergency response plan should address the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities of supervisory staff, subordinate staff, and volunteers
  • Required emergency and safety equipment and where to find it
  • Actions to contact emergency services
  • Actions to contact other relevant parties, such as family members and supervisory staff
  • Approach to addressing media inquiries

The emergency plan should only be activated when authorized by an individual from a list of pre-approved roles, such as supervisor or manager. This individual will also assume the role of incident commander. This incident commander will provide overall supervision and direction for the implementation of the emergency management plan.

  • Training
    • Provide all supervisory staff, subordinate staff, and volunteers with a copy of the emergency response plan
    • Provide all supervisory staff, subordinate staff, and volunteers with training on the emergency response plan, including their specific roles and responsibilities
    • Provide all supervisory staff and volunteers annually with refresher training, and document completion of training
    • Establish a centralized documentation system to track the completion of emergency response training
  • Availability
    • Make sure that the emergency response plan is readily available and accessible to all supervisory staff, staff, and volunteers:
      • Have the emergency response plan available through electronic and print formats
      • Mark the physical copies of the emergency response plan in a distinct color, such as a red binder, so it is instantly recognizable to supervisory staff, subordinate staff, and volunteers
      • Encourage personnel to download a copy of the plan to their cell phones, so that it is readily available if they need it in an area with poor reception

Transportation

Operators will need to develop a plan if they are offering transportation services for attendees. The transportation plan should clearly outline the mode(s) of transportation, pick up and drop off locations, and attendance practices.

  • Source the appropriate vehicle to accommodate and transport the attendees
  • Establish the pick up and drop off locations and times
  • Establish a daily practice for pick up and drop off
  • Clearly document the attendance for pick up and drop off
  • Establish a follow-up practice if attendees are not accounted for during pick up

First aid and safety

Operators will need to ensure they can provide first aid to staff, volunteers, and participants. This practice involves the regular inspection of the first aid and safety equipment available at the summer camp and program and confirming that the appropriate individuals are trained in first aid response.

  • Locate all first aid kits in easily accessible areas in the summer camp and program
  • Develop a roster of personnel required to hold active first-aid training certification, including knowing how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED)
  • Track the currency of all personnel’s certifications and require them to take recertification training and provide updated documentation in order to maintain employment at the facility
  • Regularly check that all first aid kits are stocked and in good condition
  • Track the maintenance of the first aid kits in the centralized repository

In addition, operators will need to align with their respective health and safety policies and protocols. As well, operators will need to consult with the directives provided by the local Public Health agency.

Signage

Operators will need to confirm that they have the appropriate signage throughout the campsite to keep attendees informed of the following:

  • Restricted activities:
    • No horseplay
    • No smoking
  • Emergency exits
  • Dining hall
  • First aid stations and infirmaries
  • Garbage and recycling area

Summary

While summer camps and programs can be a source of enjoyment and learning for attendees, it is essential that operators develop a comprehensive risk management plan to make sure that all attendees and staff remain safe. By taking a careful approach and considering the commonly encountered risks outlined above, you can manage your risks and help ensure that camp and program is enjoyable and safe for all those involved.

If you have questions regarding summer camps and programs and managing risks, please contact your Marsh representative.