Managing Risk

Managing Risk

An article by Adam Chan


Managing Risk

Is managing risk about tossing dices? If this is true, the notion of managing will be automatically nullified. In this section, we shall illuminate the concept of risks mitigation in our programs, and also creating the appropriate paradigms in perceiving risks in both facilitators and participants.

In any facilitated experiential settings regardless done indoors and outdoors, risk is inherent. The ship in the harbor is safe, but this not what the ship is built for. In adventure learning, inevitably it involves some degrees of risks. We can’t really experience anything we can call adventure unless we embark on an adventure. However, as practitioners, we must be well aware of the risk levels to avoid events of misadventure. This industry is as delicate as a string. There can be ten faulty ball point pens in every ten thousand being made and the sales of the ball point pens will go on. However it will only take one incident that contains one irrecoverable injury to undermine the relevance of the adventure learning industry, and that is the industry we are joining or are immersed into.

The Concept of Risk

Within the context of experiential learning, the risk can be viewed from three perspectives or some practitioners may call it as the three types of risk. In brief, each risk or perspective is written below.

Absolute Risk
– this refers to the “at worst” scenarios. If we think the possible incidents that can occur in any challenge rope courses (CRC), one can imagine falling objects, cables detaching from the main structure, tilting of the main pillars, belay or foot lines giving way, or even the entire CRC collapsing. The consequences of such catastrophic event are nothing less than severe and threatening.

Real Risk
– this refers inevitable events that are highly possible to happen but in much less severity compared to the Absolute Risk. It is common to get some bruises and nicks from going a CRC or any given adventure learning experiences. When we mention real risk, we think of soft tissue injuries, lacerations, bruises, sun burn, insect bites, etc. Such events can happen to any individual regardless of the precaution taken. One can wrap up in a protective armor over all but it is still possible get abrasion or even getting dehydrated from the physical exertion of moving in the armor over all.

Perceived Risk
– this refers to how each person perceives or evaluates the level of risk of any given experiential learning activity. We are all too familiar with seeing some participants being paralyzed by fear as he or she traverses through the high CRC while some don’t seems to be affected at all. The contrast is accounted by the level of perceived risk both parties hold. To an uninitiated participant, the self-perpetuating thoughts of misadventure will subconsciously work to multiply the fear in the person thus paralyzing the person during the CRC challenge. Inversely, another person who possesses certain technical knowledge regarding CRC is able to make sense of the effectiveness of the safety system in protecting personal safety. Naturally this person will appear to be less hesitant.

Assessing Risk

Once we comprehend the concept of risks in the experiential learning setting, this foundation will path the way for each learner to acquire the “safety sense” of a facilitator. The safety sense refers to the ability to assess risks and taking the appropriate actions to mitigate it in our program context.

For any credible assessment to take place, we must first identify all the inherent risks in any given activities or settings. To aid in the identification process, we use the three factors below.

  1. People (participants health, clients’ learning objectives, vendors, staff competency)
  2. Equipment (ropes, harnesses, life-vest, props, etc)
  3. Environment (function rooms, opened sea, lakes, direct sunlight, etc)

Risk assessment on any given activity can be conducted and record in the table below.






Identification of risks is the first part. To follow up, facilitator should start applying measures to address all the identified risks to an acceptable level of risks.

For example; during rafting, some participants don’t swim but are keen to participate.
The facilitator can take various actions to mitigate the risk. What would you do? Please write your thoughts in the space provided below.


One essential thing to remember about risk assessment is its application area. It should not be restricted to only activity. Risk assessment can be applied to other relevant settings and even to certain individuals.


So what do we wish to get out of all these steps of risk assessment? In all experiential learning settings, we don’t want tolerate any absolute risks from unfolding. Such operators will take necessary steps to eliminate such risks and we will do too.

As mentioned, real risks are not avoidable but can be reduced by means of risk disclosure and delegating the responsibility of personal safety to the participants. This can be achieved through thorough briefing, prelude activities, training, etc. prior to commencement of the activity proper. A fine example to a prelude activities will be conducting the “washing machine” a.k.a. trust fall activity prior to Mohawk. By learning the importance and techniques of offering support to each other usual forms the foundation of building mutual trust. Another highly visible example will be the safety briefing and demonstration before any climbing takes place.

The trickiest one is the perceived risks. As facilitator, we want to elevate the perceived risks beyond the realm of comfort zone but never into the panic zone. Suffice to say that someone who has a near drowning experience will reject learning to swim even it is something beneficial. When done properly, the learner will be placed in the learning zone. Not necessary the most comfortable zone to stay within but it is most effective for learning to take place. Facilitator can achieve this by revealing or concealing the activity instructions and information with the right amount and at the right time. It is usual for facilitator-in-training to find difficulty in balancing the mammoth amount of information to arrive to the actions to be taken to address the question of risks. With regular practices, it will turn into a mental model that can be done on-the-fly.
Useful link for further reading: