As students get older and become more experienced in fieldwork, so too should they become more involved in the process of identifying risk, evaluating risk and strategizing in ways to reduce risk. Students who are more aware of risk through these forms of activity will hopefully become more adept at keeping themselves and others safe, and as a result become more confident geographers who empathise to a greater degree with the environment and people around them.
Involving students in risk assessment practices can also be of benefit to the ways that teachers and trip leaders assess risk. Students will see risk in an activity from their own perspective and may flag up aspects of the data collection procedures, for example, as risky in ways that adults would not think twice of.
Students can be involved in risk assessment in a number of ways:
It is not easy for students to visualise the data collection phase of their fieldwork, especially if it is in a location with which they are unfamiliar. Showing students the equipment they are going to use in the classroom beforehand is beneficial in ways beyond just assessing that equipment for risk and should be part of the planning process regardless. However, in handling the equipment, and in acting out the collection of data using it, students will be able to see how the equipment should and, importantly, should not be used and the potential harm they may come to if the equipment were to be mishandled.
Students can also benefit from seeing photos and videos of the field site prior to the fieldtrip. A useful exercise is to give students print outs of OS map extracts and photos of the site and ask them to annotate these with as many potential risks as they can see. Ideally, these photos will come from a time when the trip leader has done a recce of the site and can take photographs that will not only show precise data collection sites but will also frame visual risks that they would like students to identify.
Once students have identified any risk associated with data collection equipment, techniques and location, they can evaluate the likelihood of that particular accident or mishap occurring and the degree of severity felt if that incident were to happen. The most accessible way for students to do this is through a numbered scoring system of one (low likelihood or low degree of severity) to three (high likelihood and high degree of severity). To help students gauge where certain risks fall on this scale, it is a good idea for teachers and trip leaders to give one or two examples to students verbally of risks that are high and low in both regards.
Once scores have been established, students can calculate the total risk by multiplying together the likelihood and severity scores for each potential incident. From this students will be able to identify the most and least risky activity they will be undertaking. The most valuable part of this activity however is not the actual scores the students generate but the round-classroom discussions that are possible about what constitutes high and low risk activities and behaviours. Students can gain a great deal from verbalising their concerns about a way of collecting data or how a piece of fieldwork equipment might be used.
Before students can devise management strategies they need to know the basic categories of ways in which risk can be managed. These are the use of PPE (personal protective equipment), behaviour of the individual, behaviour of the group, altering the activity and altering the location. Students may be able to associate certain PPE with certain activities, though for the most part, this is the most challenging of management strategies to comprehend as so often students have little background knowledge of the type of PPE available to them.
Students are more likely to be able to come up with simple ways that they themselves can reduce risk (changing the behaviour of the individual and the group) as well as ways to make the activity itself less risky. Students might like to explore these through fun and creative ways. Teachers could act out using field equipment wrongly and students could stop them in their act and tell them how they should be proceeding in a safer way.
Younger students might benefit from a mix and match exercise where the risk appears in one column and the students have to match it to an appropriate risk reduction strategy in another column. This can create useful discussions around the appropriateness of different risk reduction measures, especially if more than one management strategy fits with an identified risk.
Once students become better versed in risk assessment they can play a more active role in the creation and communication of such assessments. Teachers might like to take the risk assessment they have created for the fieldwork and blank out certain parts for students to fill in themselves. At A Level, where students are more likely to be conducting fieldwork independently of their peers and their teachers, it is important that they are able to assess risk on their own and follow their own safety considerations. However, it is worth remembering that no amount of student involvement in risk assessment is a substitute for a thorough risk assessment to be completed by the trip leaders where groups of students are undertaking fieldwork. Where students are working independently it is strongly advised that teachers ask students to present their own risk assessment to them for comment before they enter the field.