Outdoor Education R&E Center

Risk, Challenge, & Safety
in Outdoor & Adventure Education & Recreation

James Neill
Last updated:
25 Oct 2006

Risk in theory

Risk in practice

Risk quotes

On the Extreme Hazards of Too Many Warnings

Chinese for 'opportunity through danger'

As long as we wish for safety,
we will have difficulty pursuing what matters.
- Peter Block

Risk has a double-edged nature. 
Risk can cut, risk can heal.
- James Neill (after Hahn on Outward Bound)

More risk quotes...


About risk, safety & challenge in outdoor education

Much of the 'rawness' of natural outdoor adventure is removed by modern outdoor education programs. 

Professional outdoor education organizers weigh up potential safety risks and generally adhere to standard professional operating procedures which seek to strike a socially acceptable balance between the risk of loss (R-) and the risk of gain (R+) for the activities provided to participants.

During the 1960's-1990's there has been significant evolution in safety and risk management practices in outdoor education.  Much of this has been needed and welcome and has helped not only to improve safety, but also the overall quality of programs. 

However, the pendulum of safety concern in outdoor education has swung too far.  Many within outdoor education feel that particularly since the 1990's some feel there has been a curtailment in the human creativity and positive risk-taking aspects of outdoor education.  This has been driven at least partly by societal and legal issues about risk, liability, safety, etc. 

Today it takes bold professional passion, independent thinking and creative action to organize authentic outdoor adventure experiences.


What's new?

  • MPs urge a 30m boost for outdoor school trips in England
    (BBC News, 10 February, 2005)

    A UK education committee is calling for a "champion" to promote outdoor activities and has asked a teachers' union to revoke its advice to not run trips because of fear of litigation if a child is injured.  "We have to get away from the culture of fear that has grown around school trips and introduce some element of common sense". The committee praised efforts in some other countries to provide outdoor learning.  For example, in Denmark, schools based in forests "used the natural environment to stimulate pupils" and "experience a carefully monitored element of risk".  Also see: Teachers stand firm on school trip guidance
    (The Independent, February, 2005)

  • Teens want groovy, convenient exposure to risk experiences
    (Alex Hill, 3 April, 2005, Vail Daily)
  • Today's teenagers grew up in the 1990's - and they like to be exposed to risk-taking that is safe and convenient.  This was the message of Michael Wood, an expert in teenage psychology, in his presentation to the Snow Industry Summit, CO, USA.

  • Executive attempts to calm fears over school trips in Scotland
    (Kevin Schofield, 31 December, 2004, The Scotsman)

    Fear of litigation risks seems to keeping a new generation of risk-averse teachers from organising trips to outdoor education centers in Scotland.  Following the Lyme Bay tragedy in which 4 teenagers drowned on school sea-kayaking trip, Britain has cracked down on outdoor safety standards.  Despite this, fears of litigation remain present in teacher's minds.

  • Site management: The missing link
    (Paul Nicolazzo, 2004, outdoored.com)

    Describes a risk management  model which can be readily taught to field staff.

  • What motivates a thrillseeker?
    (Meredith Goad, 24 May, 2004, Portland Press Herald)

    Psychologically, people lie on a continuum with regards to their desire to experience thrill through risk-taking.  Big T's tend to pursue risks in their careers, physical adventure, and are more susceptible to drug use, gambling and other risky behaviors.  Little T's assess risks differently and are more cautious.  Interestingly, this "sensation-seeking" personal attribute is about two-thirds genetically based.  There are also developmental patterns, with risk-taking peaking during adolescence and young adulthood, and lowering after people have children.

  • More risk news...

Packing the Essentials of Life for Camping - Peanuts
Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz


On The Risks of Not Taking Risks


More Risk, Safety, & Challenge in Outdoor Education News

An Ode to Risk