In Short: Helping children stay safe during height-based activities

Different standards for the sector apply in different countries, due to local legislation and operating environment. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PIXABAY

In Short brings to you selected Opinion pieces in bite-sized portions. This is a shorter version of the full commentary.

When I started on this piece in May, I only wanted to find out more about ziplines at playgrounds.

But I waded into something bigger: What about ziplines at higher altitudes, which are governed by different standards from the ones at playgrounds?

Could some of the recent high-profile height-based activity accidents have been prevented? What is outdoor adventure education (OAE) - of which ziplining is just one activity - really about?

The experts told me that it is important to make a distinction between OAE and outdoor pursuits like kayaking and abseiling. OAE takes such pursuits one step further by being an intentional, structured approach for students to learn skills and attitudes.

Different standards for the sector apply in different countries, due to local legislation and operating environment.

And here's where things get interesting, because nationwide standards do not exist in Singapore today.

For example, the Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education (Olae) Association, the largest association of outdoor education activities in Singapore with 24 organisation members, has a set of Standards of Industry Practices which apply to its members.

On the other hand, as a member of Outward Bound International, Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) is required to undertake an external systems-level risk assessment and quality review every two years.

It also references technical proficiency and coaching certification published by SportSG and national sports associations; as well as regional standards published by the ACCT and the European Ropes Course Association for building and operating challenge ropes courses.

The obvious next step should be to harmonise standards.

Hence the National Youth Council-OBS, together with Olae Association, have put in a joint application to create national OAE standards that will take into account how OAE is practised in Singapore's unique environmental and educational context. In the coming months, stakeholders in the sector will be invited to participate in the standards development process.

But it's not just about safety, stressed Mr Edvan Loh, OBS' deputy director for learning and capability development.

There will also be guidelines so that providers can better design their activities and programmes for educational purposes.

In addition to this, I suggested the following:

  • Once a common standard is in place, consider whether the standard should carry legal force
  • Put in place a monitoring and implementation framework
  • Consider what penalities should be imposed for breaching standards and in the case of safety lapses

Smaller providers may also need financial, technical or other support from government agencies and industry associations, to redesign their systems to comply with the new standard.

There's also the larger question of whether children really need, say, high-element activities to build character. Can there be an option for them to back out if they don't feel comfortable?

The bottom-line is this: Singapore ought to model the best practices in the industry and set a high bar for enforcing standards - so that injuries or deaths are prevented to the maximum extent possible, and do not cloud the more important educational objective of such activities.

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