Highlighting Leader Resources: Incident Reports as a Learning Tool

Discussing incident related paperwork during a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course
Discussing incident related paperwork during a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course

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.)

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.

When do we file incident reports as AMC leaders?

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 Volunteer Accident/Incident Report Form 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:

  • Incident response involves the use of outside agencies (police, hospital, emergency response, search and rescue, etc.).
  • The participant involved in the incident receives professional medical care (to the knowledge of the Leader), professional medical care is recommended by the Leader, or the participant refuses the offer or recommendation of professional medical care.
  • In cases involving potentially life threatening or disabling injuries or in the case of a fatality, the Leadership and Risk Management Department or other staff at AMC headquarters should be contacted as soon as the situation reasonably permits. For more information on contacting AMC staff in the event of an emergency, please refer to the AMC Chapter Crisis Communication Chart.
  • A Leader may file an incident report under other circumstances at his or her discretion, including concerns relating to adherence to the Code of Conduct. In addition, leaders and participants are encouraged to report potential violations of AMC’s Code of Conduct to: codeofconduct@outdoors.org. A Leader should consider the emotional and physical welfare of any participants involved in the incident, their attitudes towards 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 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.

An incident report is also an effective way for us to capture information about behavioral issues impacting our community. For example, if an issue occurs related to our Code of Conduct, then it is important to document it via an incident report form and submit it to the email address noted above.

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.

Note: Updated from original post published on 2/1/2018.

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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.