When to Say When

Safety can be a boring word. "Bundle up now. It's cold outside," or, "Be careful. We don't want you to have too much fun."

Though it seems paradoxical, it can also mean freedom when definitive parameters are set for a good time.

But how do you protect the young camper and issue instructions for having a blast? Facilities and personnel planning is key, and insurance is used only to reward poor planning and failure.

Prepare with Promotion

Participants need to be prepared to confront danger and to practice safety, and one way to do this is to explicitly set out exciting and potentially risky areas in promotional literature and on your website.

The vista in your promotional literature creates a healthy respect for in-person inspection, giving a sense of what's actually there and encouraging investigation. A first visit could otherwise be met with a rush of adrenaline just before a broken or sprained limb.

Camp is a new experience. Clothing is different. The surroundings are different. The neighbors are different. The counselor should be particularly aware of this.

The camper walks a few feet for a meal at home. At camp, it's a 440-yard sprint to get to a meal. There are activities all day that require stamina. It's a good idea to build in rest for the fatigue that is ordinarily masked by the excitement of a life dream come true, a stay at camp.

Remember, fatigue and crowds are new experiences for the young camper. Most city dwellers never become exhausted, except after a sporting event at school, so it's important to give them an idea about the activities they'll be participating in beforehand in camp literature and the website.

No need to scare them with tales of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Save the scary yarns for campfires. Rather, offer a rundown of a typical day's activities… They'll get the picture and should be more prepared, at least mentally.

Getting Ready

The camper is missing an important ingredient, the watchful parent. Thank goodness. The counselor must fill that role in the new setting, so the first day should be used to acclimatize the camper to the new surroundings.

While the camper is developing new muscle and coordination, they're also learning the neighborhood. The counselor should make regular assessments of each camper's progress, particularly in the early days of camp. Affirm that progress with repeated questions.

The camper has a lot of new neighbors. The job of the camper is to socialize and become capable of interacting with the new neighbor.

The first day's activities familiarize the camper to kids from other cultures and neighborhoods. The counselor may engage in games to help this process. Liability is lessened when the camper is not forced to take risks to show strength or stamina. So, at first, make the activities simple.

As the camper becomes acclimatized to the camp, the counselor may back off to allow the testosterone and adrenaline to do their work, and the camper is allowed to learn and practice self-restraint. It may not be necessary for the counselor to control the activities of the camper to provide protection at this point, but the keen, watchful eye is always necessary.

Safety Valves

Camp administrators live on-site and are not always able to clearly define when to say when, so they are often assisted by an outside evaluation.

One of the most helpful ways of analysis is to have the camp surveyed by a safety engineer -- someone skilled in evaluating risk.

This reduces areas of harm and reduces the likelihood of allegations of negligence or indifference. Damages from work-related injuries are minimized by evidence of care and concern exhibited by safety training and inspections. Each year the camp should be inspected for areas of concern about staff and campers. This helps lower insurance premiums.

Speaking of premiums, insurance should be tailored to the facility. This may require shopping for the right carrier. Over time the cost of coverage is apt to be less than the bargain policy that provides inadequate coverage.

Self-insurance or deductible costs should be anticipated and budgeted. An umbrella should be acquired for the decadal tragedy, but this is really a topic for a future article.

Some activities should be restricted. There can be no running in a narrow hall. Food fights are prohibited (they cause slick floors). Lights must be turned out after 10 p.m. -- campers will fall asleep in 20 minutes and then you will not be at risk for mischief. Life vests, headgear, gloves, safety ropes and other devices must be encouraged or required.

Activities should be restricted that are dangerous after fatigue sets in. Some activities are dangerous when done in a crowd. Disperse the participants into small groups for crowd control and management.

Keep participants engaged. The idle mind is the devil's workshop. Structure down time. For instance, campers must write a parent daily.

The Ten Commandments were written to help us to know when to say when. They were not scripted to limit our fun. They were the skillful observations of someone who knew the fun that was in store and how we might be most prepared for those experiences.

Roy Keezel is a lawyer who maintains a general practice in Houston, Texas, and represents several non-profit organizations. His experience with safety issues is the result of working with private school, child care, nursing home and manufacturing facilities.

Bryan BuchkoComment