Summer is almost here—a time of vacations, swimming, and fun in the sun. Many churches and districts also host annual summer camps for both children and teenagers. These camps are a fantastic outreach opportunity, but they also present possible risks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), injuries related to inflatables, like those used at church events and camps, increased from approximately 5,000 in 2003 to more than 17,000 in 2013.
With water sports, outdoor activities, and a crowd of people of varying ages, the potential for injury or incident is significant. But with risk management, you can help prepare your camp for the unexpected.
Keep It Simple
When you think of everything that could possibly go wrong in a camp setting, it may be hard to figure out where to begin with risk management. But a good way to create a safe camp environment is to keep things as simple as possible. Just taking the time to thoroughly examine your facilities and grounds can help you minimize or eliminate a lot of common dangers. Here are a few things you should look for during your camp walkthrough:
• Are there any hazards that might cause someone to trip and fall, like loose carpeting or cords stretched across walking areas?
• Do stairways have secure handrails, steps that are resistant to slips, and sufficient lighting?
• Are all emergency exits clearly marked, well lit, and free of obstructions?
• Is there any damage to buildings or other structures that could cause accident or injury?
You should also be sure to inspect all heating and ventilation systems, as well as any appliances. Inspections, especially from a qualified technician, enable you to fix problems before they become significant and more expensive to repair.
The two most common risks associated with camps are bodily injury and sexual abuse. Good risk management practices, like those described below, can help you protect both campers and volunteers, ensuring that camp is a fun experience for all involved.
Injuries can happen at any time and during any camp activity, but inflatables and water activities are the most likely to cause severe injury. It is important to have clear rules for each camp activity, in order to minimize the risk of injury or accident.
Campfires are a staple of summer camps but also a potential cause for accident or injury if they are not carefully used and monitored. Be sure not to use gasoline to start a campfire, and do not allow any paint or aerosol cans to be added to the fire. Burns are the number one safety issue when it comes to campfires, so set up a proper safety zone and make the boundaries clear to both campers and volunteers.
Golf carts and ATVs can also cause injuries if not used with proper caution. The best practice is to make a rule that no one under the age of 18 is permitted to drive one of these vehicles, and drivers should not have any passengers, in order to avoid injuries from falling off.
When using any sort of inflatable, make sure that all camp leaders know and follow the manufacturers’ instructions. If your camp has a blob or iceberg-style inflatable, be sure to take all the following precautions:
• Require all participants to wear life jackets
• Instruct jumpers to start in a seated position and to land on their rear ends
• Make sure the area is clear before allowing the next participant to jump
• Ensure that two lifeguards are always present—one on the platform and one in the water in a canoe or kayak
• Be sure that lifeguards have 360-degree visibility around the area
• Do not allow anyone to swim beneath the blob
• Post rules in a prominent, visible place
• Create a barrier to prevent access to an unsupervised blob
• Instead of a ladder, use steps to access the platform
For water activities, be observant and aware of the weather at all times. You should also evaluate and be aware of each child’s swimming ability, and any swimming should be supervised by a CPR-certified lifeguard. We recommend using color-coded bands (Church Mutual offers these color-coded bands free of charge for their customers):
Yellow: Shallow water only
Green: Qualified swimmers
Be sure that you have a release form on file for each child, documenting both parental permission and the activities in which the child is allowed to participate. The form should include emergency contact information, a list of medications and allergies, and a release authorizing medical care should the camper be injured. Learn more about release forms here.
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
Sexual misconduct with minors is the primary reason that churches end up in court. Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize the potential of an incident happening, as well as the ministry’s liability.
Every adult who will be involved with minors at the camp in any way should be thoroughly screened. Proper screening involves a criminal records check, a national sex offender registry check, and contacting at least two references and maintaining documentation of the information provided. No adult volunteer should be exempt. If your camp will have a speaker or any other guests, be sure that they are screened just like your volunteers. Additionally, if there is another group using the campgrounds during your camp, be aware of their location and take extra precautions to keep your campers safe.
A smart rule for camps is the “6/2” rule. According to this rule, adult volunteers must have been church members for at least six months, and no minor should ever be alone with just one adult. A good best practice is to check your rules against those of area public schools, since schools are required to meet or exceed state standards of reasonable care.
Darin Stroud, Ministries Director of the Assemblies of God Kansas Ministry Network, emphasized the importance of seeking advice from other ministries and camp directors, as well as being aware of current standards and practices.
“It does take a lot of extra work to take the time to ask questions, research, and evaluate,” he said, “but in the end it is well worth it. Accidents are going to happen, but it is easier to sleep at night knowing that you have done everything possible to make camp an amazing place to experience God, have fun, and be safe doing it.”
For more information about risk management, check out riskmgmtLIVE.
Mission Assure, a product of AG Financial Insurance Solutions, offers superior short-term protection for camps and other church events and outings. Learn more about Mission Assure here.
This information is not legal advice. Information is from sources deemed reliable. Information is subject to error, omission, withdrawal, or change. Contact your own legal advisor before taking any action that would have a legal consequence.