Risk Management for Outdoor Programs

Self Assessment: Standard & Laws


The purpose of this document is to guide organizations in reviewing their risk management procedures and practices, specific to eight risk domains as well as several general categories. Organizations undergoing this self-assessment are expected to better be able to understand, anticipate, manage and respond to risks encountered by their program.

This self-assessment is one of four self-assessments designed to be used together to complete the self-assessment process. The other three self-assessments cover risk domains, risk management instruments and COVID-19.

The self-assessment is intended to be used by outdoor education, outdoor recreation, adventurebased, travel, and experiential education programs, and organizations operating in rural and remote locations.

The criteria listed here emphasize outdoor activities. Other experiential programming, such as homestays and urban cultural explorations, are covered in less substantial detail.

No taxonomical model perfectly fits its subject, and these outdoor risk management criteria are no exception. Other valid criteria sets exist. Regardless of the model used: good judgment, critical thinking, and appropriate modifications for the unique circumstances of any organization using the criteria should always be employed.

This document is fundamentally a checklist. Users, however, should avoid "checklist culture" that defers independent thinking to rotely following lists; appropriate risk management involves staying alert and proactive, using creativity, anticipating the unexpected, and recognizing that risk managers cannot be aware of or control all factors leading to incidents, and so should act accordingly.

The criteria noted here do not prescribe specific methods for meeting those criteria. Those methods may vary based on a number of parameters, including activities, locations, and populations. However, the intent of the assessment criteria is to outline focus areas for the organization.

Further information and context regarding the criteria enumerated here are available through training, risk management review (safety audit) or similar consultations, and additional written materials, and should be sought out as needed.

Meeting the criteria documented in this self-assessment does not eliminate all risks. The selfassessment tools are not to be relied upon as a sole source of best practice information.

Acknowledgements, Limitations, and Disclaimer

The development of the assessment criteria outlined here has been informed by leaders in the outdoor education and standards-setting fields, including the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, the British Standards Institution, the Association for Experiential Education, the Boojum Institute, Outward Bound, SETLA, and the Association for Challenge Course Technology. Viristar thanks these and other organizations for their leadership in the ongoing development of quality outdoor programs.

IMPORTANT: Disclaimer of Liability
Persons who use this document and the assessment criteria therein do so at their own risk. Misuse or improper interpretation of this document and the incorporated criteria can result in serious injury, property damage, or death. Accidents may occur even if the criteria are met. Viristar LLC denies any legal responsibility to any persons or entities for personal injury, death, or property loss in any way related to the use of, or failure to use, such criteria, including a claim arising out of a deficiency in their establishment or promulgation or publication, or a failure to articulate other criteria. In documenting and distributing these criteria, Viristar LLC does not intend to create legal duties, for itself or for those who would use the criteria, which would otherwise not exist.

Assessment Criteria: General






The organization makes reasonable and diligent efforts to understand current industry standards for managing risks related to their program, to conform to those standards, and to stay abreast of changes to standards.








The organization takes reasonable steps to ensure it conforms with applicable legal requirements in each relevant jurisdiction, including with respect to legal requirements regarding both outdoor activities specifically and also business activities in general.






Risk Management Planning


The organization has a documented risk management plan that outlines the organization’s approach to maintaining risk at a socially acceptable level.






Staff are appropriately aware of the contents of the organization’s risk management plan.






Continuous Improvement


The organization regularly reviews and makes efforts to improve its management of risk.