On completion of this topic, students should be capable of:

• defining and understanding hazards and their associated risks

• facilitating the risk management process

• using a risk management tool

• competently identifying hazards and assessing risk

Risk is part of our daily lives and is an integral part of sport and recreation. As individuals and as a society we continually manage risk: sometimes consciously, often without realising it, but rarely systematically. Once, the management of risk was driven by self-preservation and a moral duty of care for others. Now this has been overshadowed by more powerful legal and economic imperatives. The systematic management of risk is now refined as a modern management tool essential to all areas of business. A good deal of risk management is common sense.

The complexity for paddling activities lies in the diversity of situations, organisations and activities to which it may be applied, and the human factors associated with interpretation and implementation. Definition of key terms is needed to understand the process.


Hazard means anything (including work practices or procedures) that has the potential to harm the health or safety of a person. In the broader sense a hazard is anything that may stop you achieving your objectives.


Risk is the significance of the hazard in terms of likelihood and severity of any possible injury, illness or outcome.


 The systematic application of management policies, procedures and practices to the task of identifying, analysing, assessing, treating and monitoring risks.


One of the appeals of paddling activities is that they involve a level of risk. Risk may be absolute, real or perceived.

Absolute risk is the uppermost limit of the risk inherent in a situation (no safety controls present). The absolute risk for any activity at a certain point in time is constant. Real risk is the amount of risk, which actually exists at a given moment in time (absolute risk adjusted by safety controls).

Perceived risk is any individual’s subjective assessment of the real risk present at any time. Paddlers’ perception of risk is based on their knowledge and experience, and also their perception of how well their skill level matches the challenges they are presented with. For these reasons, the perceived risk for any activity differs from person to person and may not be related to either the real risk or the absolute risk


In a section of river is a small waterfall with a hole underneath it and a moderate stopper: the hazard is the stopper:

• its absolute risk could be drowning (as the consequences) with a likelihood of ‘unlikely’ due to moderate flow

• its perceived risk, by a novice paddler, could be capsize and getting wet

• its real risk may only be limited to capsize due to the presence of instructors controlling the route and on-site for immediate rescue

• the outcome may be that everyone gets through without incident.

The key to achieving both the goals of the activity and ensuring an acceptable level of risk is to ensure a good match between the real risks of an activity and the competence of the participants to meet those risks. Competence in the activity in itself allows a realistic appraisal of risks, reducing the gap between real and perceived risk to safe levels.

Reasons we should manage risk:

• safety of participants

• liability control

• insurance

• compliance with the legislation and organisational procedures

• image control


An increase in perceived personal risk results in an increase in the production and release into the bloodstream of adrenaline which in turn increases heart rate, breathing and oxygen uptake as well as the release of endorphins and other chemicals preparing a person for action. To some, often termed ‘adrenaline junkies’, this is highly addictive. These adrenaline junkies can’t get enough of high perceived risk activities. To a lesser extent much of society get a mild high from the adrenaline ‘hit’ and experiences a sense of relaxation as the adrenaline release subsides after the activity.

In a different but no less addictive way, exercise releases endorphins which prepare the body for further exercise or muscle and tissue repair. Again, people can get hooked on even mild releases of these endorphins. Both of these effects can lead to people working at higher than normal levels of risk ‘just for the thrill of it’.

In 1955 Hebb suggested a concept called ‘optimal arousal’, proposing that humans could gain feelings of pleasure from activities that provided a ‘medium’ level of stress (or perceived risk). Activities with little or no risk are perceived as boring, activities with too much risk cause high levels of anxiety and less pleasure.

Outdoor activities are used as a medium for personal growth, development and team building. The perceived risk in these areas is used as part of the catalyst for growth.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Csikszentmihalyi pioneered a concept called ‘flow’ in an attempt to give understanding to times when activity gives euphoric feelings. Note studies have failed to record any physiological changes when people report achieving flow, suggesting it is ‘simply a good feeling’ that occurs when ‘it all seems to go right’.

The concept of a Peak Experience is similar and also very important. Peak Experience is defined as the pleasurable feeling someone gets when performing to their physical and sensory potential. When a person’s competence matches the activity demands, they tend to enjoy the experience, often to a euphoric state. Both risk and uncertainty play an important role in Peak Experiences by heightening concentration.

It should be noted that sensory overload leads to a limiting of the capacity of a person to process further input, confusion and distraction and a lowering in general performance. Sensory overload can and does occur when a person feels a very high level of personal risk.

We want risk on a personal scale, risk assists in training, risk is part of life, however risk requires management.


Frequently, media coverage of accidents, incidents and losses affects:

• the community’s perception of the risk associated with a paddling activity

• the community’s standard of an acceptable risk associated with an activity or program.


Every State in Australia has a body that regulates Occupational Health and Safety. As part of their scope, they define a risk management procedure which must be followed in the workplace.

They include the identification of hazards and the elimination or control of risks in the workplace. For an Instructor or Guide, the workplace is wherever you take a group. Copies of all of the acts and their relevant regulations are available freely on the Internet. You should know the sections relevant to your State and activities.


There are various acts and legal precedents, state and federal, that alter the obligations and responsibilities of people in regards to risk management depending on their professional standing.

Various acts and precedents exist under the term of ‘Good Samaritan’ acts. These are things such as rendering first aid to someone who collapses near you in the street.

These acts protect people who act to the best of their ability to help those in need. There are also various state acts, loosely termed civil liability acts, that cover the conduct of volunteers reducing their obligations in regards to ‘reasonable’ acts and limiting their liability in the event of civil claims.

However when you act in a professional capacity, you are required to provide a duty of care that includes a requirement to:

• Warn — duty to warn about hazards

• Instruction — provide instruction prior to activity where required

• Suitable Equipment — suitable and in good condition

• Vigilance — internal and external lookout for hazards during the activity

• Hazard Identification — preliminary and ongoing

• Instructor competence — provide competent instruction and leadership


The process involves the following sequence of steps:

• define the scope

• establish the context

• identify the risks

• assess the risks

• treat the risks

• monitor and review 


Decide what you are applying the process to. An organisation? A program? An activity?


This step establishes the strategic, organisational and risk management context in which the rest of the risk management process will take place. The strategic context is the relationship between the organisation and the environment in which it operates — the external influences on the organisation. The organisational context is the understanding of the organisation and its capabilities, goals and objectives — the organisation and its operations.

The risk management context will establish the criteria and standards against which identified risks must be evaluated — the risk profile of the activity for which the organisation exists.

External influences on the organisation include the following:

• There is a greater public awareness of legal rights, which has increased the exposure of sport and recreation organisations to litigation • There is a greater tendency for people to accept less responsibility for their own actions and to seek to blame others for their misfortune

• The diminishing ‘halo effect’ pertaining to non-profit organisations. Such community service organisations once had some immunity from adverse actions in the past, but it would be most unwise for any group to reply on this effect for protection now

• A tightening economy has resulted in a wider application of the ‘user pays’ principle. With this has come increased expectations of the level of service provided

• A commercial focus on the management of sport and recreation facilities has seen an increase in charges as owners/managers seek to break even or make a profit

• The increasing complexity of today’s world means that sport and recreation volunteers require a higher level of expertise and training, and are harder to recruit and retain

• With more opportunities to participate in a wider range of activities, organisations are being introduced to the realities of a competitive market place

• There is an increasing number of casual participants who want the opportunity to participate, but do not wish to make any long-term commitment to the sport

Internal influences on the organisation include its structure, membership, goals, activities and method of operation is also important in establishing the context in which we should view risk. Consider the following questions:

• What statutory requirements must the organisation/activity meet?

• What standards exist that apply to the organisations operations? (Australian Canoeing has a Safety and Risk Management Policy and Safety Guidelines.)


Risk identification is the process of determining what potential harm can happen, what will cause it to happen and how it will happen. Identification of risk requires a mix of knowledge, experience, lateral thinking and pessimism. It is necessary to look beyond the familiar.

A thorough approach to the identification of risks involves three steps:

• identify the hazards (sources of risk): what are the hazards? • identify what could be the outcome(s): what are the effects or consequences?

• identify how likely the outcome is: what is the likelihood of the effects or consequences?

It is also important to consider the factors that may increase or decrease likelihood and consequences of the event. Sources of risk can be broadly classified into external and internal risks

• external sources of risk are all those eventualities that are not under the control of the organisation (e.g. natural events, bankruptcy of a subcontractor)

• internal sources of risk are eventualities that are subject to the organisation’s control (e.g. group management, equipment failure). In addition to the division between external and internal sources of risk, we can also classify them according to the headings listed below:

• environmental: those sources of risk associated with external environmental influences, such as weather, terrain or a building

• human/people factors: those sources of risk which are associated with aspects such as poor communication, lack of knowledge of rules or important information, or behaviour

• equipment/product: those sources of risk that result from poor equipment such as faulty footwear, damaged vehicle

• process/procedures: those sources of risk which arise if regulations and safety guidelines are not followed, such as failure to ‘warm up’ clients prior to activity, failure to use protective equipment or not providing a first aid kit when guidelines specify it.


Broad thinking and research will help in identifying a list of potential risks. Information sources for identifying risks include:

• brainstorming

• checklists

• scenario analysis

• personal experience and judgement

• industry experience

• records

• survey, questionnaires For example, you might use:

• accident report records to determine the risk of physical injury during paddling activities at a particular location

• checklists of usual risks associated with an activity at a venue

• brainstorming by experienced paddlers about the risks that may be encountered during a trip on a new river

• past weather reports for a particular date/time of the year to determine the risk of bad weather when conducting a paddling trip


It is rare that incidents and accidents occur during the main paddling program. This is the result of a number of factors including:

• The low impact nature of much of paddling

• The high level of activity skills amongst guides and instructors

• The focus given to the main activity

Most accidents and incidents occur when the activity and its participants impact with a factor outside the main activity such as

• Hazards in the carpark (broken glass, skateboarders, etc.)

• Unexpected powerboats in the area

• Group dynamics concerns To conduct a thorough risk management process it is important to consider the aims and objectives of other people both in and out of your activity

• The parents who see you as cheap child minding

• The fishermen who see you as ‘in the way’

• The participant who only attends your activity to meet people

It is also important to consider the wider context of your activity. Court guidelines on incidents state that whilst you have the power to influence you have a duty of care.

Never forget the changing nature of the outdoors. Nothing is stationary: at any time the temperature will be increasing or decreasing, cloud cover changing, light increasing or decreasing, etc. The context of an activity will vary during the activity, varying greatly if you are slowed by unexpected events.

Finally, give thought to both long and short term risks. Much of the focus on risk management is drawn by high profile events such as a car crash, fire, capsize or getting caught in a stopper, however longer term risks such as a sore lower back leading to injury due to poor seat design and bad posture accounts for a greater number of people who exit the sport of paddling.



Risk assessment is the process used to determine priorities by evaluating and comparing the level of risk against program standards or other criteria. It should be noted that OH&S guidelines require that you ‘minimise the risk to the lowest level reasonably practicable’.

Possible methods in analysing risks:

• qualitative: experience, judgement and intuition

• quantitative: gathering of numerical data for full analysis

In sport and recreation, quantitative analysis is rarely used. Those with reasonable knowledge and experience will find qualitative assessment the most practical to use.

The key questions asked in assessing risks:

• what are the current controls that may detect or prevent potential or undesirable events/outcomes?

• what is the likelihood of the event occurring?

• what are the potential consequences of the events if they occur?


While some hazards may produce a severe impact, others may be less serious, but happen more often. Hazards must be risk evaluated in terms of (i) how severe the potential impact/event may be (to providers, participants or consumers), (ii) the likelihood of the impact/event happening and (iii) the consequences of the impact/event.

A method of evaluating hazards is to classify the level of the risk according to pre-set definitions. Table 1 is an example of a ‘risk calculator’ that can be used to evaluate the hazards that have been identified in step 1 of the risk management process. First, evaluate the likelihood of an impact/event occurring, and then evaluate the consequences if the incident occurred. Find the intersection between the likelihood and the consequences and that will calculate the level of risk. The level of risk that is calculated will help in deciding how to treat the risk.

Likelihood defined

Almost certain: very possible; it is almost expected to happen

Likely: probable; it might well happen or prove to be true

Moderate: there is a reasonable possibility that it might happen

Unlikely: not probable; slight chance that it might happen

Rare: seldom found or occurring; uncommon

Consequences defined

Extreme: the consequences would threaten the survival of the organisation

Very high: the consequences would threaten the continued effective function of the organisation

Medium: the consequences would not threaten the organisation, but would mean that the organisation could be subject to changed ways of operating

Low: the consequences would threaten the efficiency or effectiveness of some aspect of the organisation, but would be dealt with internally

Negligible: the consequences would be dealt with by routine operations.

Level of risk defined:

Severe risk: must be managed with a detailed risk management policy, as the potential could be devastating to the organisation

High risk: requires detailed management planning, as the potential is damaging to the organisation

Major risk: attention is needed to control risks, which will have a great impact on the organisation

Significant risk: will have an impact but will not be as harmful as a major risk

Moderate risk: the risk can be managed by specific monitoring or response procedures

Low risk: the risk can be managed by routine procedures

Trivial risk: unlikely to need specific application of resources

For example, in a flatwater paddle situation a qualitative risk analysis would be ‘moderate’ for the risk of a shoulder injury to a novice paddler when an adequate warm up had not taken place. For an experienced paddler with a warm up, the risk of a shoulder injury would be ‘low’.

Following is an example of risk analyses of the likelihood and consequences.

This analysis will indicate the level of risk that exists. The second step is to assess this against the established context and criteria to determine whether the risk is acceptable or unacceptable.

Having set contexts and criteria allows consistency in the assessment. Obviously unacceptable risks should be treated

For example: When instructing a group of six paddlers on flat water, an instructor sees two other novice paddlers getting onto the water. The instructor assesses the risks associated with supervising a group of eight, and considers this against the recommended ratio of six paddlers to one instructor. Using this reference of recommended ratios, she decides that the risks are too great and asks the novice paddlers to stay off the water.

Criteria used to determine acceptance of risk include:

• costs of risk treatment and cost of rectifying the loss, versus

• opportunities afforded by taking the risk

For example, to determine the acceptability of taking the risks associated with paddling across Bass Strait, a group of experienced sea paddlers will need to weigh up the advantages of gaining tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment against the disadvantages of the cost of EPIRBs and possible rescues, and the low possibility of loss of life.

The final question is: What is the priority of the risks?


If a hazards and its impact is identified as highly likely then the hazard should be noted and a level of appropriate action taken. For example

Blisters — first aid kit with water resistant bandages available

Sunburn — SunSmart procedures in place Low level dehydration — drinks available

If a hazard has a low consequence such as blisters it does not require a procedure, etc, however once you have identified the hazard carry the bandages.

In the same way every foreseeable hazard assessed with extreme or catastrophic consequences requires action appropriate to the above criteria regardless of its likelihood.


Every State’s OH&S Act and regulation has a specific hierarchy of measures to be used in the control of risk. As an instructor or guide you need to be aware of the specifics for your State. The options for treatment of unacceptable risks must be considered in context. Treatment should be appropriate to the significance of the risk, and the cost of treatment commensurate with the potential benefits.

• avoid the risk

• reduce the likelihood of the occurrence or the consequences if it occurs

• transfer the risk

• finance the risk

• accept the risk

One or more options may be used to treat the same risk. The list above provides a rough hierarchy with those options listed first being preferred. The flow chart below illustrates process by which options can be considered.


The organisation may avoid the risk completely by consciously not entering into the activity or by removing the hazard from the activity or by changing the activity so that participants do not come into contact with the hazard.


It may be possible for a control to be introduced to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

Reduction of risk is achieved in a number of ways:

• reduction of the likelihood of occurrence — for example:

– regular maintenance to avoid equipment failure

– more skills training prior to running a rapid to improve performance

– careful guidance through a route to avoid stoppers

– smaller group size to ease containment

• reduction of the consequences — for example:

– installing a permanent dropline across the top of a rapid at the venue to assist rescues if/when needed (contingency planning)

– wearing helmets when in white water or surf

– carrying rescue equipment in an easy to reach situation

Such controls may not prevent an event from occurring but they can reduce the consequences or prevent them from escalating. In particular, controls that focus on the preparedness for an event, and the ability to respond and recover, are very important


The mechanism for the transfer of the risk is generally a document with some legal standing. Predominately this will be an insurance contract, but other forms include leases, the contracting of certain expertise, disclaimers for participants, and warning signs.

Insurance is normally an important part of any risk management program but is not a substitute for other more appropriate treatments, which provide for safety. It should be regarded as the last option for risk management.

Disclaimers or similar forms are now common in those sports and recreational activities that may be considered to have a moderate or high risk. The purpose of such forms is to waive or limit liability for negligence of the provider, coach, instructor, etc. In effect, such forms principally serve as a formal liability. Current legal advice suggests it would be foolish to rely on such forms alone for the defense of a damages claim. However the forms do ensure that participants read and sign an understanding of the risks they are undertaking.


Risk financing is a form of self-insurance where the frequency and likely cost of an event are estimated and a financial reserve is built up over a period of time to cover the potential loss. For example, a canoe club reserves a percentage of membership fees each year to cover the cost of rebuilding its slalom course in the event of it being demolished during a major flood.


A certain amount of risk is an important factor in the enjoyment of many paddling activities, and treatment of that risk may compromise the objectives of the activity. Treatment may therefore be regarded as undesirable and the risk accepted by the organisation and participants. For example, there is the risk of capsize in paddling a Grade 2 rapid, however this element of risk adds to the excitement and sense of accomplishment if the capsize doesn’t occur

The risk evaluation may also reveal that the likelihood of an event is small, that it can be managed by regular monitoring and review. For example, the likelihood of shoulder dislocations when paddling is present in all activities, but it is very low. No further treatment of this risk is needed unless monitoring reveals that regular shoulder dislocations have been occurring during a particular activity.

Once the best option has been selected, a normal planning process should be adopted to guide implementation.


Monitoring and periodic review are essential to an effective risk management program. It is important to document all stages of the risk management process.

Questions that need to be asked are:

• has any aspect changed?

• are there changes in the relevant regulations?

• have any additional risks become part of the situation?

Each step requires consultation and must be followed in sequence with all decisions being documented. Upon completion, a time is set for review. Documenting procedures, such as reports of inspections, is necessary to establish that the plan is being used properly. These records can also be used to show evidence that an organisation is meeting its legal obligations.


All leaders of paddling activities should complete a Risk Register before taking groups on to the water. It does not matter if the work is recreational or professional, if the water is flat or white, open or closed. A risk register should be kept on file for each location the groups may attend and these reports must be updated annually. The leader of the party must check the risk register before undertaking the activity, to ensure they are aware of the hazards, the associated risks and the consequences if it occurs.


Using the system above, identify the hazards. Then work out all the risks related to that hazard. Determine the likelihood of its occurrence in direct relationship to the consequences to obtain the assessed level of risk. Lastly, work out the best measures to control the identified risks.


Even after completion of a thorough risk assessment process, some events can still occur:

• The lightning storm unforecast and not seen due to formation in your immediate area.

• Medical emergencies the participant neglected to mention

For these situations we have Emergency Management Procedures (EMP). An EMP covers the actions to be taken in extreme events. Most EMPs include the calling of outside assistance or evacuation of clients. An EMP should have a clear set of parameters of when it should be used, who should enact the procedure and a logical set of actions to be taken.

When creating your EMPs ensure they are easy to follow. Often EMPs have a laminated card that includes contact phone numbers and the main actions to be taken.


This resource was written by Ian Dewey.