Highlighting Leader Resources: Incident Reports as a Learning Tool

February 1, 2018
Incidents: Reports from the field (Photo taken during a practice scenario for students learning first aid skills)
Incidents: Reports from the field (Photo taken during a practice scenario for students learning first aid skills)

If you work in the outdoor industry, as a volunteer, seasonal employee, or full-time professional, you may be familiar with the term “incident report.” (If you are not familiar with an incident report form, you can find an example of one here.)

In the outdoor industry, incident reports are meant to capture a detailed, succinct and objective narrative of an event that could, or does, result in harm or loss. The harm or loss may involve people, damage to property, and/or loss to process. The term “incident” can describe a fatality, injury, illness, damage to property, near miss, behavioral/motivational event or any combination of these.

Within the AMC community, our Leadership Requirements & Guidelines state:

“If, in the course of any Activity, an accident or incident occurs that meets any of the following criteria, the Leader must file a report of the incident as soon as possible with the sponsoring Club Unit and with the Leadership and Risk Management Department. Accidents and incidents requiring reporting are as follows:

  1. Incident response involves the use of outside agencies (police, hospital, emergency response, search and rescue, etc.)
  2. Participant involved in incident receives professional medical care (to the knowledge of the Leader), is recommended professional medical care by the Leader, or refuses the offer or recommendation of professional medical care.

In addition, a Leader may file an incident report under other circumstances at his or her discretion. A Leader should consider the emotional and physical welfare of any participants involved in the incident, their attitudes toward the incident, and any potential for future complaints or lawsuits.”

All that sounds rather dire, doesn’t it? Take a deep breath – most of the incidents encountered as a volunteer leader are relatively minor: sprains, strains, abrasions, contusions, and fractures.

Why, then, are we discussing incident reports?

It is easy to overlook the value inherent in an incident report as a learning tool. Incident reports capture what occurs in the field. The data collected via these forms, when analyzed, highlights best practices and identifies trends. This information allows leaders to adjust field practices to more effectively manage risk for participants, co-leaders and themselves.

At the 2017 Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC), the importance of incident reports in effective organizational risk management strategies was a recurring theme. All of us who play and/or work in the outdoors know incidents happen. If we think of the incident report form as a tool for documenting events that require more care than a band-aid, or cursory treatment, then we can use that tool to build a robust database of incidents that will inform our practices as a community moving forward.

Which means, as a community, we’ll do an even better job getting folks outside to enjoy a wide range of activities.

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Kristi Hobson Edmonston

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.