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Canada’s most universally accessible health and fitness facility is the great outdoors. Educating young people to be active in that environment promotes a healthy lifestyle.

A few tragic field trip incidents have led some to believe that outdoor recreational outings and school field trips are dangerous. Yet statistically the risks of injury are similar to children’s daily activities, and lower than some team sports.

Risks Must Be Managed

The Canada Safety Council has a longstanding concern that schools and parents must work together to manage risks on school trips. A lapse in risk management can usually be identified when an outing ends in serious injury. Perhaps risks were not assessed properly at the planning stage, or safety rules were not enforced during the event itself.

On the other hand, fear-driven policies and procedures for field trips may be unattainable and unreasonable. This in turn leads to fewer outdoor activities, so that risk averseness becomes a genuine and insidious risk. Young people who are not encouraged to be active risk developing a sedentary lifestyle. A desk- and screen-bound generation is prone to diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, already on the rise in children.

Well-planned field trips serve as an opportunity to teach skills and safety awareness, when organizers stress possible risks and necessary precautions. They prepare young people to enjoy outdoor activities safely when they are outside the controls of an organized group.

Resources and Guidelines

When groups travel off-site or participate in outdoor pursuits, there is an undeniable risk of injury or incident. Schools, municipalities and community organizations are committed to providing for safety, but have limited resources to conduct the research needed, develop appropriate guidelines and resources, provide training and ensure everyone works together seamlessly.

YouthSafe Outdoors (YSO) was created to identify and address risk, and to help organizers minimize the potential for mishaps and related legal liability. YSO helps schools, service providers and community groups develop research-based policies, procedures and practices that enable and facilitate safe outings.

Safety First! Guidelines for Off-site Activities (2003) identifies risks for over 40 activities, teacher/leader qualifications, and how to establish appropriate supervision ratios and first aid capacity. It also offers guidelines related to equipment, environment, transportation, working with volunteers, safety instruction and emergency response. There are specific resources for trustees/directors, administrators/ program managers, teachers/leaders, service providers, parents/guardians and students.

No one can foresee every eventuality when young people pursue outdoor activities. The goal is to minimize the potential for fatalities, disabling injuries, emotional distress and serious illness, and to reduce minor incidents and illness to a level equivalent to that expected in the lives of active, adventurous youth. YouthSafe Outdoors and its partners are committed to helping school authorities, community organizations and others help young people develop active outdoor lifestyles, within a culture of safety and security.

To obtain YSO’s guidelines for off-site activities (150 pages) or its resource for parents and guardians (30 pages) or for further information: visit; phone 1-877-559-5959; or e-mail

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