Stay Safe

• Documentation of informed consent. A document should be signed by the parent or guardian that describing the risks inherent in participating in the camp activities. Even though many camps rely on waivers which “hold the camp harmless” in the case of an injury to a camper, campers and their parents can still sue the camp for being negligent. By having parents understand and appreciate the injuries that can occur at camp even if prudent safety measures are followed, the parent or guardian gives consent for campers to participate with the knowledge of these inherent risks.

• Camp activity planning/implementation. Adherence to a pre-established itinerary of daily activities for the day, night, weekend or week will ensure that all campers and staff have a responsibility to perform. Campers will appreciate the level of commitment and organization your camp has invested in their development and staff members will have clear parameters about their responsibilities. This will also ensure that any camper or staff member can be easily located throughout the day. Activities should also be planned with progressions that are developmentally appropriate for campers. Deviations from the plans set before the season begins can bring unwanted consequences. These days, you can’t be quite as spontaneous as you were even ten years ago.

• Environmental and equipment safety inspections. Every camp activity should have an inspection list that must be completed before a staff member starts the activity. In the case of street hockey, overrun areas should be clear, the sticks should be examined for cracks, campers should have access to water, and if the weather is oppressively hot and humid, the staff member should be ready to adapt the activity so that longer water breaks and more substitutions are the norm.

• A visitor policy. Parents, relatives and friends should be limited to planned visits, but there are instances where visitors may need to come to camp without advance notice. Signage directing all visitors to check-in, a camp representative/security personnel to meet them, and a visitor log should be in place to monitor visitors. The problem at many camps is the laxity of control at key access points. You simply can’t have people abandoning their posts, such as the camp office, for any reason (natural disasters and other emergencies aside) unless they have a backup. Poor access control not only confuses legitimate visitors, it opens the door to unwanted and perhaps dangerous visitors.

• Safety education. This should be incorporated into every camp activity. Campers should be given instruction before they venture into any activity so that they understand and appreciate what they need to do to keep the activity safe. For example, a camper who is about to swing a golf club needs to be certain that no one is near the swing path of the club. The camper must also be aware that if someone is struck in the head with a golf club, that the person could actually be killed by the blow.

• Evaluation of safety data for each camp season: logging the injuries in great detail immediately after they occur, should be part of the risk management plan. The data should also be evaluated to determine if more protective equipment should be purchased, if a facility should be retrofitted, or if a particular activity should be eliminated because of the inherent risks.

There are national safety committees that review accidents and the procedures (or lack of them) that contributed to the accidents. There are also insurance companies who have experts who can assess a camp risk management plan and who can make recommendations to make a safer camp environment. In many cases, implementing these recommendations can reduce the insurance premiums for the camp business.

Reducing injuries, increasing the sense of security of parents, campers, and staff, as well as the peace of mind that you are committed to the highest standards of professionalism at your camp can be the dividends you receive from investing in the development of a sound risk management plan.

Reducing insurance premiums, legal fees, avoiding expensive litigation, and the negative publicity that can come with these are also important justifications for developing a risk management plan.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

Craig Roderick is a certified athletic trainer, a sport venue management expert, and has extensive experience operating sports camps. He serves Endicott College as a recreation and fitness manager, athletic trainer, and adjunct professor in sport management.

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