Safety on School Trips - Schools and Parents Must Work Together

This archived article is from October 2002. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

As the new school year begins, the Canada Safety Council is urging parents to pay more attention to their children's safety on school trips.

"Most parents sign the consent form and assume their child will be safe," says Canada Safety Council president Emile Therien. "Yet thousands of injuries and even a few deaths happen every year on school outings."

According to Therien, good risk management practices can prevent most serious mishaps. "When a school outing ends in serious injury, a lapse in risk management can usually be identified. Perhaps risks were not assessed properly at the planning stage, or safety rules were not enforced during the event itself."

During the Canadian winter, field trips often center on snow sports. Skiing and snowboarding represent over 40 per cent of the injuries reported on school field trips. Snowblading and tubing, relatively new activities, are also high-risk, and require a high level of supervision as well as expertise.

In February 2003, seven Alberta teens on a school ski trip were killed in an avalanche. A 58-page report prepared by an independent expert on adventure education said both the school and the parents contributed to the deaths and stressed that responsibility for safety goes two ways. While the report did not assign blame, it suggested that the school failed in assessing, managing and communicating risk levels. It also criticized the complacent attitude of parents, some of whom signed consent forms without knowing where their children were going or what they would be doing.

In June 2002, a five-year-old Winnipeg boy drowned in a swimming pool while on a school trip. The coroner's 70 page report made 47 recommendations. They covered the number of lifeguards at crowded pools, higher standards for lifeguard training, safety audits for public pools, new procedures for school trips and a safety awareness campaign.

In response to the report on the Winnipeg tragedy, Manitoba's minister of education said his department would do everything within its power to prevent similar tragedies. He noted that some of the coroner's recommendations may be hard to implement: for example, the suggestion that the province monitor and evaluate each school division's safety rules annually. The father of the drowned boy pointed out that if policies already in place had been followed his son would still be alive.

How can you make sure your child will be safe on a school trip? First and foremost, the Canada Safety Council recommends, make sure a risk management policy is in place — and that the school adheres to it. Find out the details of the outing. If you have concerns, don't give permission for your child to go. Before your child goes, reinforce behavior expectations.

Parents have a right to ask for assurance that precautions have been taken. How does the school plan to ensure the children's safety during the outing? What are the potential hazards? Have there been mishaps on similar trips? How have they been addressed? How many adults will be supervising? What are their qualifications? What is expected of the children? What is the educational value of the trip?

Schools and parents must work together to make sure school trips never end in tragedy.

October 2002