Risk benefit assessment in my own backyard (Part 1)

Girl toasting marshmallow over a fireThis Thursday, I am running the first of two sessions in my back garden, for my local Woodcraft Folk group. The children will get the chance to use a fire steel to light a fire. I thought it would be interesting to carry out a risk benefit assessment (RBA) to help with my session planning. The RBA format I have used is similar to that set out in Managing Risk in Play Provision Implementation Guide (the guidance that I co-wrote).

You can download my RBA here [pdf link]. Completing it, it seemed to me that with this activity, the ‘benefit’ side of the equation did not make a big difference. In other words, the decisions I reached would have been similar if I had used a conventional risk assessment. Though one plus is that RBA does make very clear the kind of learning and experiences I hope the children will gain.

What do you think: does RBA make a difference here? If so, how? Any feedback on my thinking? Have you used RBA in your own workplace or voluntary work, and has it made a difference in your case?

I will post a follow-up after the second session in a couple of weeks.

(Thanks to Simon Harding of http://www.broomheath.co.uk/ for advice and ideas on the session.)

9 responses to “Risk benefit assessment in my own backyard (Part 1)

  1. Nicole Giezekamp

    Hi Tim!
    This sounds like an excellent activity and I think it will be a valuable session for the children. I should think that most parents should support this learning experience for their child. Looking forward to hear how it went. I wonder if you have heard of a book called “Go wild” by Frances Lincoln. You’ll find lots more inspiring ideas in there like how to make shelters in the forrest, cook your own fish which you have caught with your diy fishing rod, make “weapons” like your own bush knife etc. I found this book in the Steiner libary in Dornach. I am currently reviewing the policies of our Before and After School Care in Sydney and am looking at ways how to include rba and a play policy as I would love to offer experiences like the one you are going to do. Being in the grounds of our local school set right next to the Royal National Park is quite a bit of a challenge in respects to fires but also offers other opportunities at the same time. My biggest hurdle at the moment is the Department of Education and their legal team.

    • Hi Nicole – thanks for this. I do indeed know Go Wild, and have met the authors, Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks (Frances Lincoln is the publisher). It’s great stuff and I’ve had a go at a number of the activities, including making an atl-atl (a cantilevered spear).
      Good luck taking forward RBA in Sydney – I’m sure you know you have an ally in the Network for Community Activities. Get the legal people to talk about their childhoods, that should help them ‘get’ risk benefit!

  2. I am not an expert on risk, but often wonder if people overestimate the likelihood element and underestimate the benefits particuarly when children are involved.
    The activity sounds like great fun. Looking forward to hearing how the it goes.

  3. Hi Tim
    Interesting question. I must admit I’ve never seen RBA done in this way – putting a benefits next to an associated hazard/risk does seem a little ineffectual or even absurd, although I see that the specific benefit of learning from a mistake applies here. We’ve always recorded the overall, but detailed, benefits of that particular activity/play behaviour. It’s useful to put this right at the top of the RBA, and in a way answers the clear question: “Why are we doing this?” The answers are often a composite of anticipated benefits, childrens requests/responses and oberservations of previous experiences, and we’ve always tried to do them with the whole group (in this way it can be as powerful as childhood memories in convincing people to take balanced risks in outdoor play). It also provides a helpful justification of providing the opportunity (to be honest I’ve only ever done RBAs for activities I fully intend to take place) and can also be communicated to parents etc.

    If it’s helpful to share, our RBA form has 3 components for each activity or setting: 1. List of benefits and values, 2. Checklist of removable hazards to look out for (could be broken glass, or trip hazards near the fire, or flammable substances) 3. Detail of inherent hazards and risks, ie part and parcel of the activity but useful to think about in advance.
    Of course the biggest part of offering such adventurous activities is dynamic risk assessment, ie making in the moment decisions based on experience and intuition and dependent on the nature of the group, such as how close to the fire do we sit, and how much poking of the fire do we allow…
    Hope that’s helpful or at least adds fuel to the fire?!

    • Hi Martin – great to hear your thoughts. I like the sound of your RBA, with the distinction between what I guess my MRPP IG co-authors and I call ‘good risks’ and ‘bad risks’. I had been wondering whether my version at least had the merit of forcing people to interrogate each identified risk/hazard for potential benefits – but your version does that too, in a less contrived way. Also interesting to hear how you democratize the process and open it up as a spur for learning and reflection. Thanks – I’ve been fired up! [sorry]

  4. While I think RBA is often going to better than plain RA I do wonder if we’re missing the wood for the trees sometimes. Nowhere in the form is the fundamental benefit the child will feel of “this is really brilliant and I/we did it ourselves!”. We know how cool lighting your first fire is and we need a compelling reason to /not/ do that. And there would be compelling reasons if we had, say, unsupervised 3 year olds doing it, of course. There’s stuff in the RBA about learning about risks etc. and that’s all very well, but feeling good about yourself and what you did is a benefit too. And you get toasted marsh-mallows…

    • Hi Peter – thanks for this. Your point echoes Martin’s post, and you’re both right of course: we need to be clear about the massive benefits of these sorts of activities and experiences. However, where adults are shaping or facilitating the experiences, we also need to do a good job in balancing the risks against the benefits – and often, we have to show we’ve done this too. This means dealing with the nitty gritty as well as the big picture, hearts and minds stuff.

  5. Pingback: Risk benefit assessment in my own backyard (Part 2) | Rethinking Childhood

  6. @Peter. Hear, hear for the emotional aspect. I had a problem with a learner that at first pass looked insurmountable. A group of disabled teenagers attended one of my sessions and one of them was wheelchair bound and had only vague use of her arms and hands. The key activity for the session was fire lighting. She lit her own fire and toasted a marshmallow. Carers ran for the hills when we implemented a solution for her but when we sat down afterwards and assessed the solution against the risk we realized that we had reduced the risk acceptably and probably to a lesser degree than we do with able bodied learners. We also concluded that the benefit in the smile and the inclusion far outweighed the first view that the risk was too high and we shouldn’t attempt it. The carers commented positively and the parents at collection time were overjoyed that we had taken the time to arrive at a bespoke solution for their daughter. We have the photographs and should they ever find themselves published they would split opinion, probably more so that abseiling in a wheelchair.

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