Everything we do involves an element of risk, so we need to have plans in place to manage this. This guidance will help you to do that, both before and during an activity or event.
Published January 2023, replacing February 2022
We all do risk assessments or safety checks everyday, such as when we cross the road. We choose an appropriate place to cross, look both ways and make a decision about whether it’s safe to cross.
We know that young people learn by doing. Activities encourage the development of young people and they can feel a huge sense of achievement in completing them. We want to provide EXCITEMENT, but not DANGER. ADVENTURE, but not HAZARD.
Assessing risk starts in the early stages of activity planning and goes on throughout the activity, until all participants go home at the end of the activity. Embedding risk assessment within the planning process allows us to deliver safe, enjoyable and exciting programmes for young people.
Who is responsible for risk assessment?
The simple answer is everyone has a part to play in assessing and managing risk. All adults have a role to play in keeping Scouts a safe place for our members and achieve this by working together and cooperating. Make sure that everyone understands the role they play and also that young people understand how they can help keep Scouts safe for themselves and others.
The Scouts provide safety training for all adults which includes support in undertaking risk assessment. This is also reinforced in other more specialist and role specific training.
Line managers are responsible for ensuring that adults have the appropriate training for their role, whilst leaders are responsible for ensuring that young people have appropriate training or instruction to help with their understanding of risk. Adults are also responsible for ensuring that they identify their own learning needs and if they require more support or assistance to flag this with others who can help.
All activities require a leader in charge. This is someone who makes sure that key tasks are completed. The leadership team are responsible for identifying and agreeing on the leader in charge for each activity.
5 Steps to risk assessment
There are five simple steps. If you’ve done risk assessments elsewhere, these should look familiar.
A hazard's anything that could cause harm, or cause something to go wrong It could be cables across the floor, a slippery or uneven surface, or the weather – these are all unsafe conditions. Unsafe acts could be a hazard as well, that is, something that someone might do that could cause an accident.
Make sure you look at all your activities, including things that might not be done very often, non-routine tasks.
Talk about it with others in the volunteer team and look at what actually happens rather than what should happen.
Look for the hazards which are really significant, not every single little thing.
You can use the Safety Checklist for Leaders as a good starting point. There's a long list of some common hazards you might find. You can add to them as you talk with other volunteers involved in the activity.
In addition, there could be hazards relating to people involved in the activity. For example, safeguarding, or the needs of individuals with additional needs, should be documented in the risk assessment as appropriate to the activity and circumstance.
Who's involved in the activity - young people, adult volunteers, visitors? What could happen to cause them harm?
Young people might not recognise a hazard, especially younger members or those with additional needs. Younger sections, such as Squirrels and Beavers, will require more supervision.
Teenagers, such as Scouts and Explorers, are also more likely to take risks, so we need to be aware of how they perceive risk in order to help keep them safe.
Some people might simply have got used to a hazard being present and adjusted how they behave around it, but visitors might not know that the hazard's present. It's important to communicate your risk assessment to all present, this may need to be adjusted with new people. Step 4 has some tips on how you do this.
For example, if you have a heavy entry door, those who come through it every week may know how it closes, but new visitors won’t be aware. You should think about how this could be kept open, such as using signs to make people aware or supervising the entrance.
Adults are often very good at identifying hazards which might hurt young people, but can sometimes forget to look after themselves. We also find that adults sometimes do things which they’re not used to, which can result in injury - we’re not always as flexible or strong as we think we are!
Once you’ve identified who might be harmed, you need to think about how someone may be harmed. Someone falling from a wall would be injured differently depending on how high the wall is or what surface they land on – this is the how.
Knowing who may be harmed and how they may be harmed means you can now think about what the risk is.
Risk is the chance of someone being harmed by the hazard, or the chance of something going wrong. For example, walking along a wall a foot from the ground has little risk, but walking along a six foot wall with no railings is more likely to result in a fall and the person be hurt..
Controls are ways of removing or reducing risk.
When deciding how risks are going to be controlled, it’s useful to work through the following questions, in this order:
- Can the hazard or thing that might hurt/go wrong be removed entirely?
- Is there a less risky way of doing something?
- What can be done to reduce the risk of people being in contact with the hazard?
- What instructions and supervision are needed?
- Is protective clothing or safety equipment available to reduce risk?
Always start at the top of this list and, if you can, remove a hazard entirely. Removing a hazard entirely is always the best choice, but if this isn't possible then explore the other options in order.
Think about any special considerations or controls needed for those with additional needs. You can check out the guidance on making reasonable adjustments to help make Scouts as inclusive as we can.
When considering these questions, you should also consider what’s reasonable and practical. Don’t just simply go for the quickest or cheapest option, but think about what would be reasonable for you to put in place as a control where you are, in the setting you are operating in.
Never be afraid to change or stop an activity if the risk increases.
As part of considering what controls you’ll have, think about what will trigger you to stop or change the activity and document this. Also, think about what you will do instead and, where possible, document this.
Just thinking about a risk assessment isn’t enough. It needs to be recorded.
It could be documented, usually on paper, in a structured format. However, it can also be saved to a mobile device or notepad. Audio recordings would be acceptable if members aren't able to record their risk assessment in writing.
The key is that the method you choose allows for it to be shared with and understood by the other adults and young people involved (communicated). There is no point in having a risk assessment that people don’t know about as they cannot manage the risk
Documenting it helps you think through all the steps and is easier to review when you next do a similar activity. It also makes sure that what you’ve decided to do is clear and well communicated.
- How do you involve others (adults and young people) in doing and documenting the risk assessment?
- How will you inform them about the risks identified and the controls in place to keep them safe?
How and when to risk assess
There are lots of options for this which we’ll work through now.
- Trustee Boards must make sure that risk assessments are documented for all premises which they own or operate. Leaders need to make sure that they have access to these premises’ risk assessments, whether that’s your weekly meeting place or the activity centre you’re staying at for the weekend, because they’ll include things which will help with the development of your activity risk assessments.
- There are lots of activities in your programme that you do all the time: it could be the arrival, start, end and departure of your meeting or the standard way you run cooking or crafts activities with your section.
- Once you have assessed these, documented the risks and control measures and then communicated them to all involved, you may not need to reassess or review them every time you repeat the activities.
- Watch out for changes which might require a review and update. Also, you will need to remind everyone as often as necessary as otherwise they will soon forget. Ensure new people know what is expected before they take part, for example after a holiday break or when new young people join the section.
As you’re doing these activities regularly you should be aware of the hazards, risks and controls. This means you may not need to get the actual document out each time. Simply work through the usual controls and think through what you are doing.
If plans change first look to your existing risk assessment as your contingencies may be covered by this already. If not think through and discuss with others what's changed, going through the risk assessment steps and making sure you communicate the new plans clearly to those involved. If you need to do that on the spot it’s called a dynamic risk assessment. Afterwards, consider if your documented risk assessment needs updating based on actions taken to manage the risk and update it if required.
There will also be bigger or more adventurous activities or those you do less often. Make sure a risk assessment is done before the activity takes place and that it’s documented. This is likely to include nights away events, trips and outings. It doesn't mean you will have to start from scratch. You can use a previous event’s risk assessment as a starting point to build on.
Ways of recording a risk assessment
There are many ways of recording your risk assessments: The Scouts provide an online template but you could also try annotating your activity instructions sheet, making notes on a phone, using an online risk assessment tool, or an audio recording would be acceptable if members are not able to record their risk assessment in writing.
It’s about finding something that works for you and your leadership team. Just be sure that you can show you’ve worked through the five steps and have communicated it with others.
For example, if you manage your programme through Online Scout Manager you can record your risk assessments there and these will be available to other leaders. There are some example risk assessment templates and tools available here. Whichever method you choose, make sure you date your risk assessment, and show who was involved in it and when this will be reviewed.
Communicate and explain to others
Don’t just keep this information to yourself; it’s important to tell others about what you’ve done and what measures are in place to keep activities safe. For nights away events you will need to share your written risk assessment with your Commissioner or their nominee, as part of the approval process.
We’ve talked about sharing risk assessments with young people. Involving young people in keeping activities safe is really important. We know young people learn by doing activities that teach them #SkillsForLife. Regardless of who’s involved, everyone should feel that they can stop an activity if they feel it’s unsafe. For example, an adult could raise their concerns with another adult, or young people in an archery session could be taught to shout ‘Stop!’ if they see anyone breaking the rules.
We’ve created some guidance to help you talk to your young people about safety. Briefing young people about the risks will help them to stay safe and to learn. With younger members, it can be as simple as explaining not to run with scissors and why, and how to hold them correctly and safely. Helping others to understand the risks of an activity, and what makes them a risk, will be more beneficial to all than simply saying ‘don’t!’
If your plans change at the last minute, make sure you discuss them with all others involved so they understand what’s changed to make the activity safe.
Ideas for ways of sharing your risks and controls
- Team Planning Meeting – discuss at leader meetings. This will help you to put the assessment and controls together by asking those taking part. It also increases understanding and ownership.
- Team Briefing – for all adults at the start of a camp or residential experience. Includes those who may not be regular members of the team and parents helping for the first time. Cover off the controls and reasons behind them.
- Camp Rules – time planned in to explain rules (and reasons behind them) at the start of a camp to young people with leaders present.
- Examples such as advising Scouts to be careful near the wood pile and reminding them to wear strong boots and gloves to avoid injury, explaining to them about the nails and splinters. Any control measure should be simple to communicate.
Documenting your risk assessments isn’t the end of the process; you need to make sure they’re regularly reviewed.
Dynamic risk assessment
During an activity, things may change – you need to be able to respond and change the activity, or adapt it, if needed. This is called a dynamic risk assessment. This is based on your experience and knowledge of the situation. In most cases you will be making decisions based on what you’ve previously identified. If you end up changing any control measures this needs to be communicated to the leaders involved in the activity, anyone else that needs to know, and then fed into the review of the risk assessment before its next use.
Stepping back and looking at what the activity is trying to achieve could lead to doing it a different way. This might be a change in route, venue, additional training, an increased adult/young person ratio or better equipped participants.
Remember to record the changes you have made. There are lots of ways of doing this. You may be able to do this at the time, adding them as notes to a copy of your risk assessment sheet, on notes on a phone, or need to add them later to demonstrate that changes were needed and may contribute to your later review of this activity for next time. Discuss the decision with others and make sure that you record somewhere when practical.
- Responding to changes in weather - you’ve risk assessed for a walk and the weather deteriorates. You need to decide if you continue the walk or you take shelter. This is a vital step in the process, as failure to notice or respond to changes will create or increase risk. You should be prepared to stop at certain points and ask yourself things like: Should I continue with this activity? Or, when do I need to do headcounts to make sure everyone is still okay? Then consider how you share any outcomes and amendments to your plans.
- Changes in the numbers attending - you might be running a game for Cubs or Beavers and have increased numbers or a change in abilities of the participants. Perhaps you change the rules slightly or decide to switch to a different game.
- Environmental changes – you arrive at your meeting to find the access tower still up from the painting which has been going on. You need to think fast as the young people are soon arriving, so either relocate outdoors if the activities and weather suit or adapt your programme to work around the tower in a safe way.
- Change in timings – your planned activity finishes early and so you have 15 minutes to fill in your programme. Don’t worry, you can grab an active game from your games bank and run this using your generic active games risk assessment and dynamically adapt the risk assessment to the specifics of the game.
Never be afraid to change or stop an activity if risk increases.
Don’t forget that, as part of your programme planning, you should have alternative activities in reserve just in case you can’t do what was planned or you need to stop half way through.
Thinking about ‘If this then that’ for example if it’s too cold the session outdoors may not run for as long if the permit holder doesn’t arrive as they are unwell. Make sure others in the leadership team understand what the contingency plans are so everyone knows how to respond.
All risk assessments must be reviewed if there’s been a change of circumstances or equipment, or if there’s been an accident or near miss. A near miss is something which could have resulted in injury or damage but didn’t. This is something we should learn from to ensure it doesn't result in a harmful incident in the future. We ask you to share near misses as it helps us all to learn from events and not just local learning
Inform your line manager and Trustee Board so that local changes can be considered if the review suggests that amended controls are required. The near miss form is used to collect information about you for the purpose of logging a near miss with UK Headquarters, particularly when it involves equipment. The reporting of near misses is not to place any blame on those involved, but an important part of safeguarding others from harm in similar incidents in the future.
Risk assessments should also be reviewed every 12 months as a minimum to see if anything has changed, and updated as needed, again making sure any changes are clearly explained to those involved.
Consider the individual needs of your group and, where relevant, list in your risk assessment in a sensitive way. This could be the identification that someone in the group has an allergy so not to have that food item present during the meetings, or a differing control due to someone having a differing physical need. Have conversations with the parents / guardians and individuals to help with this.
Risk assessments should include information on how you will minimise safeguarding risks such as your ratios, following the yellow card and when undertaking a nights away event, details of your sleeping arrangements, making sure that young people and adults have separate accommodation and privacy.
Building a culture of safety within the Scouts will help to keep everyone safe, making sure safety is thought of in all situations and not just those activities perceived to be high risk.
Whilst members are following the rules and procedures set out by the Scouts they are insured and will be supported should something not go to plan.
Remember, it is important that you carry out the risk assessment and modify your plans accordingly. This will minimise risk and keep Scouting as safe as we can. Don’t be put off by risk assessment and don’t feel on your own with it either, there is lots of support to help guide you on your way.
Make sure you’ve done the mandatory safety training which covers risk assessment and if you want some more training, further support is available within Running Safe Activities (17) and Safety for Managers. Whatever method you choose for documenting your risk assessments, make sure you’ve recorded and shared it with others, helping both other adults and young people understand the risks and how they can help to reduce risk.
Additional Information & Support
Risk Assessment FormDownload the risk assessment form
Risk Assessment FAQsDiscover the frequently asked questions
Example Risk AssessmentsRead some example risk assessments
Safety checklist for LeadersRead the checklist
Safety InformationRead the safety section of our website
Support for line managersSupporting Sections to deliver safe Scouting - Tips for Line Managers
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In the below video we look at the changes we've made to risk assessments, what they mean to you and offer you support and advice to make the transition to the new processes.
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