Risk Management: Tips to Help Ensure a Safe Summer

by Ed Schirick

Camp is about to begin and the atmosphere is full of excitement. By now, the camp director has probably completed precamp orientation. Are you ready for campers to arrive? Hopefully, you really are ready.

Here are some tips and thoughts to help you through the challenging times ahead. As counselors, your primary duty is to ensure the safety of the children entrusted to the camp. In addition, you are there to ensure that the summer is enjoyable. As you go through the next few weeks try to remember this and keep these tips in mind. They may keep you out of trouble and may help you make a difference this summer.

Know Your Job

Make sure you get a job description which clearly defines your role and responsibility while at camp. This should include the name of your supervisor. You should also have a clear understanding of the management structure at camp. This is important in the event you are confronted with problems or issues that are outside of your role, responsibility, or authority. You are the first line of defense for the camp directors, and they are depending upon you to know what you can and can't do, as well as know who to go to when you need help.

Be on Time

This is one of the characteristics of a dependable person. It is important to be dependable. If you are dependable, you become trustworthy. This may sound trite, but it is fundamental. The rules and schedules at camp are important and as an employee you are expected to follow and respect them. If you can't be on time returning to camp from your day off, call to let your supervisor know. If you are delayed by traffic or some other circumstance returning to camp with a group of campers, call.


Listen carefully when announcements are made during the day and during meals. Ask questions if you are uncertain about your instructions. Someone's safety - yours, a camper's, or a co-worker's - could depend on the information being shared. If you are talking or otherwise distracted, you could miss vital and important information.

Think and Exercise Good Judgement

Think! Consider the risks and consequences of your activities and be prepared in case something doesn't go as planned. The more time you take to be prepared, think, and anticipate, the more likely your response will be appropriate. Exercise good judgement. Listen to your instincts, and if you make a mistake this summer, err on the side of safety.

Stay Focused on Safety

Camper safety is your number one goal. Stayed focused on this throughout the summer. Pay attention to your work at all times. Statistics show more injuries occur in the bunks during rest time than during any other time at camp. Don't let your guard down during rest time or during any other time. This becomes more difficult as the summer wears on. Fatigue contributes to injury. Keep this in mind, and make sure you and your campers get enough sleep and rest. Do what you can during the day to reduce the risk of injury from fatigue.

Complain Constructively

Be a problem solver. Don't create problems by complaining inappropriately. If you see problems, make constructive suggestions to fix them and pass them along through the chain of command. Complaining to fellow employees undermines the authority of the camp director. Successful counselors demonstrate problem-solving skills and positive attitudes.

Wear Personal Protective Equipment

You are a role model for campers. It is very important for you to wear the personal protective equipment required during activities. Wearing this protective equipment is also important for your own personal safety. Wear personal flotation devices no matter how confident you are about your swimming ability. Wear proper footwear. There is nothing worse than injuring your feet or ankles because you wore the wrong footwear during activities. Wear your seatbelt in the car or van. Make sure all campers do, too. If you have a pre-existing athletic injury requiring the use of a brace, wear it. Ditto for campers!

Be a Risk Manager

Take time to identify the risks associated with the activities at camp. You will get some help with this during precamp orientation. Invest some time identifying where campers can get injured.

Avoid Alcohol and Don't Drink and Drive

Regardless of what your camp's policy is about alcohol consumption, try to avoid it this summer. If you are of legal age to drink alcohol and can control your consumption, you may wonder why we recommend avoiding it. Simply put, you must be ready to do your job at all times this summer. Alcohol has a side effect and may impact your ability to do what you need to do when you need to do it, even the next day. Surely excessive consumption of alcohol is inappropriate and anyone who abuses the camp's policy on alcohol use runs the risk of being dismissed.

Drinking and driving is dangerous. The combination of alcohol and driving on dimly lit rural roads at night after a day off or a busy day at camp creates risk with catastrophic potential. Be smart about this risk and avoid it!

Don't Speed

We know too much speed kills! But every summer I learn about counselors on their time off who are involved in auto accidents because they were driving too fast. It is certainly inappropriate if you are a camp van or bus driver to speed at any time. This may be especially difficult to do when traffic is traveling at a faster rate than you are. Most are not carrying the "cargo" you are carrying. Remember, driving too fast is a relative issue. Safe speeds vary depending on the driving conditions. Slow down in the fog, rain, on wet roads, and at night.

Have a Caring Attitude

If you can develop a caring attitude, you will enjoy helping others. Parents are depending on you to care. Your director has hired you because you have skills and qualities needed to help care for the children entrusted to them. Having a caring attitude will help you have a wonderful summer and deliver a "world of good." Good luck, be safe, have fun!

Originally published in the 2000 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.