In brief – Schools should consider coroner’s recommendations and DET guidelines
A 2011 determination by the NSW Coroner in an inquest into two fatal accidents while skiing and updated guidelines from the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) provide direction to schools on how they may minimise the risk of injury to students on school skiing excursions.
We recommend schools pay close attention to these recommendations and DET guidelines when organising both general skiing excursions and school race participation.
In summary, schools which participate and organise ski programs should consider whether:
- the level of supervision provided on skiing excursions is appropriate
- the current level of information given to parents in obtaining their consent meets the Coroner's recommendations and DET guidelines
- students should be required to wear helmets while skiing/snowboarding (as recommended)
- "asthma action plans" will assist schools in managing risks to students with asthma
- students should be provided with laminated ID cards that include a supervising teacher's mobile phone number and any medical alerts, and
- a general review of a school's skiing program is required in light of the Coroner's recommendations and DET guidelines
Parental consent forms
Care should be taken in preparing parental consent forms. If schools are obtaining parents' consent to skiing excursions through online forms, schools should consider reviewing whether that online acceptance meets the requirements of the "risk warning" sections of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) (CLA).
Under the CLA, a person does not owe a duty of care to a person who engages in a "recreational activity" to take care in respect of a risk of the activity if the risk was the subject of a risk warning to that person (or in the case of a child, to their parent).
That risk warning must identify the risks likely to arise in conducting a particular activity and must be communicated "in a manner that is reasonably likely to result in people being warned of the risk before engaging in the recreational activity."
Coroner recommends increased supervision of children who are skiing
The unfortunate events the subject of the inquest were brought about because unsupervised children were skiing on runs that were beyond their capabilities. The Coroner concluded the best way of preventing these events occurring again was increased supervision.
The Coroner recognised that schools may decide that students can ski without supervision, but strongly recommended: "...where possible all students on school ski excursions be closely and directly supervised by either teachers capable of skiing with them on the ski run they are skiing on, or by qualified ski instructors."
The Coroner recommended that, ideally, skiers should remain in eyesight of qualified instructors, teachers or other qualified persons, which the coroner referred to as "close and direct supervision".
The Coroner specifically referred to successful close and direct supervision on skiing trips run by schools in the UK, where skiing excursions are more commonplace. The Coroner considered that such an approach would not be cost prohibitive, especially given the general costs of skiing.
That said, close and direct supervision may not always be practically possible, for example, during ski races. The Coroner made specific recommendations about the level of informed consent parents must give if a school decides that students may ski without close and direct supervision. Namely:
- written and informed consent must be given by their parents
- that informed consent must include details as to the location of the event
- the students can only ski on runs where they have been previously taken by ski instructors or other qualified supervisors
- the students must ski in groups of at least four and NEVER leave a fellow student alone (emphasis in original)
- the students must ski within the ski resort boundaries, and
- the students should be told always to stay in control and be able to stop and avoid other people or objects
Schools should consider daily ski lessons
The DET guidelines recommend that students be assessed at the commencement of any snow sport program and where practicable, should participate in daily skiing lessons each morning of the program. DET also recommends additional afternoon lessons in the program for beginner level students.
The DET guidelines state that: "ski touring, which is a much more challenging activity requiring significant additional planning, supervision and instructor competency, should only be considered following the completion of an ‘activity specific’ comprehensive risk assessment."
Helmets in skiing and snowboarding
Although the Coroner did not specifically recommend helmets, there was a strong suggestion in his recommendations that helmets mitigate the risk of injury.
Schools should consider carefully whether students should be permitted to participate in skiing and snowboarding events without helmets.
Laminated ID cards for students
DET also recommend that schools provide students with laminated photo ID cards that include details of any medical alerts and the mobile phone number of the lead supervising teacher.
ID cards can be a cost effective, practical method of managing students on ski trips and on other activities, such as bushwalking. Should students be injured, ski resort staff can contact teachers quickly and be informed of any medical alerts. Schools should consider requiring students to wear these ID cards in order to participate in a skiing program.
Asthma action plan
Some schools are now requiring parents to provide written "asthma action plans" signed by their general practitioner. These forms outline what steps should be taken in an emergency and how a student's asthma should be treated, depending on the severity of the symptoms suffered.
The advantage of these plans is that they provide schools with the most up to date and thorough information available in a convenient, easy to read form.
More information about written asthma action plans can be found at the website of the National Asthma Management Council Australia.
Further consideration - implementing DET guidelines on skiing
The comprehensive DET guidelines will assist schools in minimising the risk of injury to their students on skiing excursions. In the event that an injury does occur and litigation ensues, a Court could look to the DET guidelines to determine the duty of care owed by the teachers and the school.
We recommend schools that run skiing programs consider carefully the DET guidelines and how they may be implemented. If you want further information, particularly about parental consent forms and schools' legal duties, please contact Amanda Ryding or Alexandra Bartlett.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2020.