Outdoor & Adventure Education Injury/Fatality Rates & Comparative Statistics
17 May 2006
There is no comprehensive source of accurate figures about injury and fatality rates in outdoor and adventure education programs. From the pot pourri of statistics and expert/critic opinions, however, some general observations can be made.
Available statistics and expert opinion seem to indicate that injuries and fatalities in outdoor education programs occur less often and less dramatically than is generally feared or believed by the media and general public.
However, there is no single figure that accurately summarises the risk of injury/fatality in outdoor education because so much varies between settings, organizations, and individual instructors and participants, etc.
For example, the lowest injury/fatality statistics are reported in the Project Adventure 20 year safety study - ~4 per million hours, equivalent to working in real estate and insurance.
The highest injury/fatality statistics are related to wilderness, expedition-based outdoor programs. These rates, however, are still quite low and equivalent to school physical education programs and sport, but less than the risk of injury in contact sports.
Rates of injury and fatality seem to have been reduced over the last 50 years, since formal outdoor education programs became popular. However, total numbers of injuries/fatalities in outdoor education has increased, due to more organizations and participants.
In a series of key recent studies, Andrew Brookes from Latrobe university reviewed approximately 60 fatalities in Australian outdoor programs with school-age students since the 1960's (2002, 2003, 2004). His papers examine the trends and offer helpful research-based suggestions on how to possibly reduce the risk of fatality.
Handy Statements & Statistics
Brackenreg, M. (1997). Horizons, 14(1), 10-15.
Brackenreg, M. (1999). Learning from our mistakes - Before its too late. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 3(2).
Brookes, A. (2002). Outdoor education fatalities in Australia 1960-2002. Part 1: Summary Of incidents and introduction to fatality analysis. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 7(1).
Brookes, A. (2003). Outdoor education fatalities in Australia 1960-2002. Part 2. Contributing circumstances: Supervision, first Aid, and rescue. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 7(2).
Brookes, A. (2004). Outdoor education fatalities in Australia 1960-2002: Part 3: Environmental circumstances. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 8(1).
Davison, G. (2002). A profile of accidents in professional outdoor education in New Zealand. Paper presented to SPARC 2002: New Zealand on Outdoors Risk Management.
Davison, G. (2002). Exploring the myths: Analysis of incidents and accidents in professional outdoor education in New Zealand, 1996-2000. Paper presented to SPARC 2002: New Zealand on Outdoors Risk Management.
Hogan, R. (2002). The crux of risk management in outdoor programs - minimising the possibility of death and disabling injury. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 6(2) pp. 71-79.
Jillings, A., Furlong, L., LaRhette, M., & Ryan, B. (1995). Project Adventure 20 year safety study. Unpublished manuscript: Project Adventure.
Priest, S., & Gass, M. (2005). Effective leadership in adventure programming (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Thomas, G. (2003). Risk in outdoor education [Powerpoint lecture; .pdf]. Department of Outdoor Education & Nature Tourism, LaTrobe University, Australia.