Safety standards launched for outdoor learning industry

SINGAPORE: The Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association (OLAE) launched its first set of safety standards on Saturday (Mar 24), with the aim of enhancing the industry’s image and professionalism.

The standards cover various aspects of outdoor learning, such as height-, land- and water-based activities, as well as expeditions and overseas travel. 

OBS students canoeing

It also includes guidelines calling on vendors to implement "clear and appropriate incident management procedures", such as emergency response and crisis management.

Misconceptions about the safety of outdoor actvities however are still abound, according to outdoor educator Mike Lim, who has worked in the industry for two decades. 

Kayaking and dragon boating, for example, are seen as dangerous activities as they are based in water, noted Mr Lim. 

"We try to tell (people) it’s very safe, the boats are OK, we have people with them," said Mr Lim, who is also director of InnoTrek. 

"But to them, because of their own fear, they say no – I don’t want to take responsibility, no water activities. So this … deprives participants from having a chance to expose themselves."

The industry currently employs up to 2,000 freelance and full-time instructors and educators, who conduct outdoor activities and camps for schools and corporate clients. Such programmes range from kayaking and trekking to adventure education trips overseas. 

"The perceived risk by those outside of the industry is pretty high, therefore we do a lot of risk assessment and management to manage the risk to a level that is acceptable," said OLAE president Lye Yen Kai. 

With the industry standards now set up, there will be a reference point for everyone to follow, he added. 

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The standards also cover employment practices, such as developing staff career plans and competency frameworks for practitioners – something which the labour movement welcomed, said Mr Patrick Tay, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

"In terms of career progression and looking after the interests and welfare of the working population in this sector, the labour movement freelance and self-employed unit will work closely … with the association, in terms of seeing where their interests and needs are," said Mr Tay. 

This will ensure that employees in the industry will not only upgrade their skills, but also continue to stay employed and employable, Mr Tay added. 

The industry-mooted initiative comes on the heels of a stronger emphasis on outdoor education, with the Ministry of Education (MOE) recently rolling out the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan for students.

The association consulted around 100 stakeholders on the standards, including practitioners and members of the public such as teachers and parents, and engaged government agencies and bodies, including MOE, National Parks Board and the Outward Bound School.

Moving forward, the association plans to encourage more industry players to adopt the standards and be accredited over time, as well as have its standards officially recognised by Enterprise Singapore.