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Thread: "13 Lessons"

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    "13 Lessons"


    Reposting "13 Lessons" published by what is now ScoutsWales from an incident in the 1990s as a point of reference as it seems no longer to be available online and is very relevant to a number of recent discussions. I am posting without comment and without the intention of discussion on it, but simply because it is worth a read. Perhaps the mods might lock the thread if they feel it appropriate?

    Please note - important - that this is a document published in the 1990s and is NOT directly relevant to current POR - please don't for instance use this to justify local rules about home contacts/InTouch, also please don't derive things like Terrain requirements from it

    13 Lessons from recent mountain accidents
    Vital Reading for All Leaders

    For Form M rules click here [editor's note; no link as they are not relevant now]

    No reader of this document can be unaware of the two fatal accidents that occurred in Snowdonia in October, 1999. I was involved, as Area Commissioner for Snowdonia & Anglesey and with the Field Commissioners, in the immediate support required by those parties. Subsequently, in my role as the National Adviser for Land Activities, I was involved in consideration of action to be taken by the Association in light of these two tragedies. In addition to the County inquiries (see POR 37.4[f]) the Committee of the Council set up a national committee of inquiry to consider these two accidents, an earlier fatal accident in the Alps and any others deemed necessary and to draw any lessons etc. from the accidents. In all, 13 lessons need to be learned and these will be explained below and in subsequent issues of Sgowtiaid. In case any reader feels that what is written below is of no concern to him because he does not lead mountain activities, let me make it very clear that some of these lessons affect all our activities and that you should mutter to yourself "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."

    LESSON 1-TRAINING: For many years mountain training courses, have rightly, made much of the need for the right equipment, clothing etc. and the risk of hypothermia. Modern clothing and equipment has dramatically reduced these risks. All training courses are run against a background of shortage of time and it is suggested that less should be spent on discussing the virtues of different types of boots and similar topics and more spent on the current two weeks areas of training-Risk Assessment and Party Management.

    LESSON 2-A HIDING TO NOTHING: As a purely personal opinion I would suggest that should the Association suffer a similar fatal accident in the near or medium term future it will be difficult to justify remaining with our own assessment scheme (Form M) and still not require anyone leading parties in the hills to have the full Mountain Leader Award. Very few of our Leaders have this award and my guess is that our mountain activities would be reduced by about 80%. The effect on our programmes I leave you to ponder but I hope you appreciate how important it is to avoid serious accidents for this reason as well as the more obvious ones.

    LESSON 3-NO NEW FORMS OR PROCEDURES! The natural response, when something goes wrong, is to tighten up on procedures and introduce new forms, checklists, methods etc. May I stress that the national committee of inquiry found NO NEED for any local Area, District or Group to produce new forms. The national procedures for authorisation, route plans etc. are totally sufficient. The comment of the outside member of the national inquiry (a much respected person in outdoor education) was 'There is nothing much wrong with your rules, but your problem is making the b****** obey them!!!' If more bureaucracy is introduced the 'cowboy' Leader will still ignore it, while it will be yet a further burden on the conscientious one.

    LESSON 4-HOME CONTACT: Every activity must have a Home Contact who must NEVER be related or emotionally involved with anyone in the party. In one of the Snowdonia accidents the Home Contact was the mother of the Leader who died, so it was she who had to ring the District Commissioner to tell him of the fatality-to her own son. Home contacts do not stop accidents but they do act as a vital contact in the sometimes disorganised aftermath of an accident. There is a full factsheet on Home Contacts in the January 2000 edition of Sgowtiaid so please re-read it. The Factsheet -FS 120078-is now free from the Info Centre.

    LESSON 5-AREA ASSESSMENT PROCEDURES: In one of the Counties that suffered a fatal accident to be assessed a Leader had to turn up on one of four weekends in the year. No other options were countenanced. This led the Leader in question not being assessed but still taking parties to the Hills. It is arguable that if he had been assessed he would not have been authorised and so would not have taken the party. We must offer the maximum flexibility for assessment and I can do no better than cite Durham as the ideal example. In addition to a planned programme of Assessment weekends the following appears on their Assessment Information Sheet: If none of these dates suit you, and you need a Form 'M', we can also assess on an ad-hoc basis-provided enough notice is given. We could even join you on one of your own hikes that you are planning anyway and issue a recommendation for your Form 'M' at the end of the day. I cannot fault those arrangements. Is your Area offering something as flexible? If not, why not? Do remember that a number of members of the Hafod Team are available to carry out assessments if your own Area is short and at least one member of the Hafod Team will happily go out mid-week to accommodate, for example a shift worker or a clergyman.

    LESSON 6-THE INQUIRY: Every accident-AND NEAR MISS-should be investigated to see what lessons car be learned. The new HO Incident Report Form is much more helpful in this respect than the old one. The prime aim of the Inquiry is to establish the facts not to apportion blame, but it may be that in establishing the facts some degree of blame inevitably surfaces. For this reason it is vital that the person (called the Reporter in the new Incident Report Form) is someone with no problem about reporting with total impartiality. A District Commissioner, and to a lesser extent an Area Commissioner, quite rightly, feels that he must support his Leaders. An Area Mountain Activities Adviser may have a lot of technical knowledge but may feel some degree of moral responsibility if a mountain accident happens in his Area. For these sorts of reasons it is unlikely that a District Commissioner can ever be the person to conduct an Inquiry, an Area Mountain Activities Adviser should only be called to provide strictly factual, technical evidence and so on. POR is not as well written as it might be on these matters. It might be well worth going to your neighbouring Area and asking them to carry out the investigation. The chairman of the Inquiry should be someone who is used to drawing out information, albeit in a friendly manner, such as a lawyer, police officer etc. A 'whitewash job' helps no-one and can bring grave disrepute on the Movement. If we make mistakes-we admit them.

    LESSON 7-RISK ASSESSMENT: This is a vital part of ALL Scout activity planning. For the colony visit to a zoo the question is 'How close can a resourceful Beaver Scout get to the lions and could he end up as a tasty morsel for Leo?' Many of you will be very familiar with Risk Assessment from your place of work where such procedures are commonplace with regard to machinery, production lines etc. It is much easier to do Risk Assessment in such circumstances because the risks of a piece of machinery can be fairly easily quantified and precautionary procedures instituted e.g. guards over moving parts. It is not so easy for most of our activities because the factors affecting the risk such as terrain, weather, individual physical condition etc. are constantly changing. In addition our risks start from the moment that Scouts gather (e.g. at the Scout HO) right through travel to the activity area, on the activity, during any subsequent non-activity time (e.g. in a camp, youth hostel etc.) and on the journey home. One idea might be to appoint 'Risky' just as we have 'Akela', 'Baloo' etc. His/her sole job would be to look for trouble (!!) - and stop it before it happens. They would be with the young people all the time but would not be involved, in the cooking, the navigation, organising the tuckshop etc. They would see, however, the trailing electric flex, the dangerously balanced billy, the party above you on a steep scree slope, the boy whose boot laces were trailing and so forth. It would be the ideal job for an ultra-fussy mother-and we all know one of those!

    LESSON 8-GENIUINE ACCIDENTS: These are like Old Master paintings-exceptionally rare! Almost any accident can be traced back to a human failing-getting up late, not packing your rucksack the night before, too much beer the night before, forgetting the map because you thought Mike had it, inadequate briefing for the young people-the list can be endless. One recent overseas Incident Report I saw finished by declaring that the fatality was a 'genuine accident'. The police of the country concerned are now pursuing charges of culpable homicide against the Leaders concerned so who got it wrong? For 'whitewash jobs' please see Lesson 6 above.

    LESSON 9-WHY GO TO SUMMITS? This may seem an odd question from a confirmed mountaineer but the young people we take to the hills are not mountaineers. We use the mountains as a tool in our Aim (see page 15 of POR [1995 edition]), which is the development of young people. Thus there is much more value in a journey across easy ground where most, if not all, the decisions making is done by the young people rather than a leader led journey over difficult terrain where the only role for the young people is to follow the heels of the person in front. For our many urban-raised Scouts any wild country is an adventure. For them a journey through the Carneddau is just as exciting if they are doing the navigating, managing the party etc. as following 'Skip' up the PYG path on Snowdon.

    LESSON 10-NO MORE 14s: In all three accidents reviewed the parties (from 10 to 18 in numbers) were managed (?) as one vague mass. Such consistency of error can only mean that we, as an Association, have got it wrong. Therefore, with immediate effect that sentence in POR 40.1(f) that currently reads 'No more than two parties should move together in the hills' should be deemed to be deleted. Formal deletion will follow in due course. This is the only actual rule change resulting from the three accidents considered. When a troop or unit has more than 7 out in the hills the parties must either follow different routes or if on the same route must be distinct in time and distance from each other. This change of rule should ensure that an authorised leader can clearly concentrate on the well-being of no more than six young people under his leadership. It should be noted that this is a rule, order, instruction, call it what you will. It is not a vague suggestion as to possible party size that you can chose to obey or ignore as you see fit. A linked question is that of age range. If we mix 10 year olds and 15 year olds in the same party we will overtax the one or undertax the other. It may not be easy but to give full play to the development possibilities of wild country any route should be tailored as precisely as possible to the age and experience of ALL those in the party.

    LESSON 11-A LEADER'S 'EGO TRIP'? How often is a route planned because the Leader(s) has an eye on a route that he wants to do and the young people are just 'cannon fodder' to justify the expedition? It is vital to choose a route suitable for the young people in the party, taking into account the weather, their experience and the development value that the route offers. Probably the best measure that a route has been right for the young people is that the Leader(s) says that he has had a 'a rather boring day' and that he has plenty of energy in hand to cope with any emergency. If Leaders want, quite rightly, to extend themselves and to increase their level of experience they MUST do it with other adults in a party. They will gravitate to their peers, discussing important matters such as the strength of the beer in certain pubs, their plans for a holiday etc. and their attention could wander from the Scouts in their charge. One adult is satisfactory, two is ideal, three or more is questionable

    LESSON 12-A District Commissioner must be robust and ruthless. He must be impervious to entreaties. He must be adept at saving a situation and modifying plans. This is certainly the most difficult lesson of the lot. In general a District Commissioner likes to be friendly and not dictatorial and work on the assumption that Leaders adhere to the Association's rules. Sadly these recent accidents have shown that this is not so and District Commissioners need to adopt a much firmer approach when issuing authorisations. Because there are few sanctions that can be applied-I have yet to meet a Scouter who is paid for what he does and so could lose income if sacked-this comes down to force of character on the part of the District Commissioner. In addition District Commissioners need to keep their ear very close to the ground and take action if they have the slightest suspicion that a Troop or Unit is going beyond their capability. The granting of an authorisation should, perhaps, be made more of an event with a clear mutual discussion as to the limitations the authorisation imposes and the action the District Commissioner will take should the person exceed the authorisation. I do not believe that withdrawal of a warrant is an excessive sanction. None of us has the right to a warrant; it is a privilege. If a Leader is prepared to break the Association's safety rules in such a cavalier manner is he or she a proper person to have charge of young people? In any large organisations there will be a proportion of 'cowboys'; those who 'don't hold with all this rule rubbish'; those who believe that young people are developed by subjecting them to a sort of continuous SAS selection regime. In the public opinion climate of today we cannot afford to have such people in our midst. Almost certainly every District Commissioner needs to take a stronger line than hitherto. There is no place for the DC who colludes with a 'cowboy' by saying something like 'So long as I don't know about it, old boy, I don't mind what you do'. They may have to cope with a Leader who, a week before the annual camp or expedition, discovers he has no authorisation for the planned programme. The answer cannot be 'Well go ahead anyway, I'm sure nothing will go wrong'. It must be 'How can I help you adjust the programme but still have an exciting and interesting camp or expedition?' This is all strong stuff but in the light of the current circumstances I do not believe it can be modified. I appreciate that this could mean, in one or two cases, the closure of a Troop but that is the price we may have to pay for getting our house in order. I am willing to support DCs in this new approach and put my telephone number (redacted) where my mouth is. In a similar manner you can look to your Field Com missioner for advice and also, I hope, to your Area Team.


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    Last edited by Neil Williams; 10-02-2020 at 05:57 PM.

  2. The Following 10 Users Say Thank You to Neil Williams For This Useful Post:

    astwood7 (10-02-2020),BalooNav (10-02-2020),big chris (10-02-2020),Bushfella (10-02-2020),dralphs (10-02-2020),ianw (11-02-2020),khoomei (10-02-2020),scoutgamer (22-02-2020),shiftypete (10-02-2020),sjl14 (10-02-2020)

  3. #2
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    thanks I was going to do the same, Corporate memory is so important I used an updated version of this when I was DC for some training. must get back to that other threat and put a full response. but as I work in the electricity supply industry just a little busy at the moment.
    Paul Austin
    Kent Scouts SASU Water team
    G0AXQ, intrests in Scouting, Cycling, Hiking, anything on the water. seeing the young people achive.

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    Neil Williams (10-02-2020)

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    Senior Member Bushfella's Avatar
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    But nonetheless, in practical terms, and I know that I am banging my head against a brick wall, Method of Operation is so important.
    Ewan Scott

    It seems that there are a lot of Nawyecka Comanch around....

    Nawyecka Comanch'": "Means roundabout--man says he's going one way, means to go t'other" Ethan Edwards - The Searchers

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    Neil Williams (10-02-2020)

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    I've edited his phone number off as I'm sure 20-odd years later he doesn't want phone calls if it is still his number!

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    ianw (11-02-2020)

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