Winter Activities and Field Trips
By Kevin Bartsch - Assistant Director Workers Compensation Pool Operations and Matt Komac - Assistant Director PC Pool Operations
It’s that time of year when school districts are planning winter outdoor activities such as ski trips, sledding outings, and ice-skating parties. Due to the dangerous nature of these types of activities, it is not uncommon to see increased claims associated with injuries, some severe. These injuries typically involve not only paid staff members but also volunteer chaperones, who are covered by a district’s volunteer endorsement coverage. Additionally, the potential exists for liability claims under the district's general liability coverage in the event of student injury. The type of injuries we see can vary greatly from minor strains to full-on ACL or shoulder tears requiring surgical repair, lost time, and significant disruption of the individual’s life. These can be extremely costly as well (the average surgical ACL or shoulder claim can easily reach $40,000.00-$50,000.00 to address).
The following are some important considerations shared in hopes of helping you to reduce the likelihood of injury and claims. First, try to avoid situations that require chaperones to participate actively in an activity. Although you will, of course, want them to be onsite and available to assist directly with support, ideally you will design situations wherein students are monitored by qualified participating staff – think instructors at ski areas. If the activity does not involve qualified professionals – think sledding or ice skating, for instance – this doesn’t necessarily mean chaperones should be physically involved. They can provide appropriate oversight without putting themselves and others at increased risk.
If, on the other hand, chaperones are required to participate in an activity with a relatively high risk of injury, the district should select individuals who are experienced, physically fit, and capable of performing the activities safely.
Staff, volunteers, and chaperones should be role models while participating. As such, they should wear personal protective equipment (including helmets when appropriate) and proper footwear and/or traction assistance devices, and they should warm up and stretch adequately prior to engaging in activities. This thoughtful due diligence sends a message to the students that “safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
Here is a general checklist for consideration when planning one of these school-sponsored trips:
- Does the district have enough staff and/or volunteers to adequately supervise students?
- Have the parents/legal guardians, students, and staff been provided with relevant and timely information about the trip?
- Have the district’s expectations regarding proper student conduct, rules, and regulations for the school trip been clearly communicated to parents and students?
- Have the parents/legal guardians provided the district with appropriate written permission for their child to participate in the trip?
- Have the parents/legal guardians been informed of the inherent risks associated with their child partaking in the school trip
- Have the parents/legal guardians given authorization for emergency care?
- Have the parents/legal guardians signed the appropriate assumption of risk form(s)?
- Have the volunteers/chaperones been instructed on their role and expectations for the activity?
Although it is impossible to anticipate and prevent everything that could happen on a school-sponsored trip, districts can take proactive measures to manage and mitigate risks and, in so doing, to help ensure a safe and fun outing for all involved.
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