Bushwalking

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Bushwalking refers to activities involving walking or hiking in a diverse range of outdoor environments.

Bushwalking may take place during a single day or involve overnight camping. If overnight camping is planned, please refer to Overnight camping guidelines.

Definitions

Day walks — Walks of a single day’s duration where students do not camp overnight.

Difficult terrain — Terrain which includes narrow or uneven tracks, rock scrambling, sustained steep ascents or descents, off track walking or thick scrub.

Extended walks — Walks of more than two days, where students camp for at least two nights.

Overnight walks — Walks of two days duration, where students camp out for one night.

Remote areas — Areas where the group may be a considerable distance away from emergency assistance.

Environment

The environments chosen for bushwalking are often relatively undisturbed and require sensitive use and management. These environments offer opportunities for personal challenge and reflection as well as for studying unique flora and fauna, however they are very susceptible to long-lasting damage from human activity.

When preparing for bushwalking, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity. Further information is available at Environment.

Location

Due to the unique nature of each location, the teacher responsible for the activity should specifically assess the suitability of the location before the excursion.

The choice of location should be based on the recent and first-hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff. Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and should have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support the educational objectives
  • the level of access to resources, services and facilities that may be needed, such as campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance in the event of an emergency or extreme weather conditions — the more remote the location is, the more self-contained and self-reliant the group must be and this must be taken into account in the planning of the activity
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the ability and fitness levels of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access current information and determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Staff need to be aware that severe weather conditions may develop before or during the proposed activity and should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

Staff should have a thorough knowledge of the route to be covered. The final route plan should be documented with daily distances, rest stops and campsites. Route planning should consider the:

  • age and experience of the group
  • nature and difficulty of the terrain
  • availability of escape routes
  • availability of flat campsites, sheltered from the wind and away from hazards, such as dead trees and overhanging branches
  • availability of adequate and safe water supplies.

The length and difficulty of an overnight route should be selected so that groups generally arrive at the camp well before dark, with sufficient energy left to make camp and prepare a meal. This may not, however, be appropriate in all situations, e.g. when it is desirable to walk at cooler times of the day.

Communication

The communication strategy should enable staff to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology and the location of the activity.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the activity which enables communication with outside parties, including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of the communication strategy.
Weather

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the activity and on the day the activity commences. If the excursion extends overnight, access weather forecasts and warnings daily and monitor and assess the weather throughout.

Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Weather conditions can change rapidly. Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at any time.

Web links
Transportation

The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered and planned. See: Excursion support – transport

Activity

Student skills

Students should be briefed on:

  • personal equipment, clothing and footwear that is suitable for the walk, the principle of clothing layers, and group equipment suitable for the location and activity
  • personal safety, including sun protection, hydration and safe walking techniques
  • known hazards which may be encountered during the walk (e.g. cliffs, river crossings, bodies of water or steep ground)
  • minimal environmental impact techniques relevant to the location of activity
  • awareness of wildlife.

Students should also undertake navigation training suitable for the location and activity.

Before and during an overnight or extended bushwalk, students should also develop:

  • skills in tent pitching (including awareness of and responsiveness to overhead hazards), safe use of stoves, food preparation and basic first aid
  • an understanding of camp practices, including hygiene, responding to weather conditions and protection of the natural environment.

Bushwalking can involve carrying loads for extended periods with challenging movements and postures. Therefore, when planning individual load sizes and the intended route, staff must consider the potential for loads to cause injury to students.

Students should not carry backpacks that weigh more than 25 per cent of their body weight. Students should also be instructed in safe lifting techniques and recommended adjustments which can be made while carrying a backpack. For assistance in the determination of appropriate lifting techniques, load sizes and weights, please see WorkSafe’s Manual Handling - Code of Practice.

The psychological preparation of students is as important as the physical preparation, especially for students who are anxious about the activity. Under no circumstances should students be pressured by staff or peers to participate beyond their readiness.

Equipment and clothing
Equipment, whether hired, borrowed or owned by the school or students, must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.

Before overnight bushwalks, staff must ensure that food, essential clothing and personal equipment are suitable for the planned journey.

It is also essential that each student’s backpack is checked immediately before the start of a bushwalk to ensure that all the necessary items are included and the weight of the backpack is appropriate for the student.

First aid kits

First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.

Clothing

Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against severe and variable weather conditions.

Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, environment and season.

To protect against sunburn (see sun exposure) use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Students who own sunglasses should be encouraged to bring and wear them when required. In addition, the use of sun hats should be maximised.

Identification

Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

Staff must determine the most suitable identification system based on an assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken, and the age and number of students.

Equipment, food supplies and clothing

Equipment appropriate for walks not longer than one day:

  • food and water suitable for the length/nature of the walk, including emergency options
  • footwear that is comfortable, well broken-in and in good repair — in more rugged terrain, footwear should have ankle support
  • rainwear suitable for the activity and location
  • a well-fitted pack
  • maps/walk guide suitable for the activity and location.

Equipment appropriate for overnight or extended bushwalks would, in general, include the items described above, and the following items:

  • a well-fitted backpack with a waist belt and waterproof liner (e.g. garbage bag)
  • a tent or shelter appropriate to the conditions
  • overnight equipment, including sleeping bag, sleep mat, toileting equipment and catering equipment.

In addition, on overnight walks, staff should carry:

  • a repair kit for key equipment such as stoves, packs and tents
  • a stove (even if the group plans to cook on fires)
  • detailed maps of the area (laminated or in a waterproof holder) and a compass
  • spare emergency food and water
  • a length of rope if walking in areas where a handline may be necessary or if needed as a navigational aid.

People

Staff

Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity. All staff members must be approved by the school council.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher responsible for the activity must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If this teacher is not the designated instructor, he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will arise in any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and its environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

There is no widely accepted bushwalking instructor/guide program in Australia.

Documentation of Staff Qualifications and Experience (doc - 151kb) must be used by the designated instructor to document staff qualifications/experience in lieu of qualifications.

The designated instructor must have the following documented experience, knowledge and skills:

Required experience

  • experience in bushwalking activities
  • the ability to navigate within the chosen location and foreseeable conditions
  • current experience in the planned locality or similar environments
  • experience in planning bushwalks appropriate for student groups
  • the ability to interpret and respond to prevailing and potential weather conditions
  • experience in monitoring group safety
  • experience in group management and student supervision
  • experience in campsite selection (where relevant).

Required knowledge

  • first aid and emergency response knowledge appropriate to the location and participants
  • minimal impact camping and walking code to ensure protection of the environment
  • advantages and disadvantages of the range of equipment available for bushwalking and factors affecting appropriate selection
  • fluid and nutritional requirements to maintain health during the activity
  • camp craft practices to provide and maintain suitable overnight sites
  • navigation techniques for determining location, direction and potential hazards
  • land management requirements, to determine any conditions that are specific to the location e.g. permits and maximum group size
  • emergency procedures appropriate to the location
  • application of weather information, to ascertain possible conditions and their affect on the activity
  • principles of clothing selection e.g. layering and other factors affecting appropriate selection of clothing
  • advantages and disadvantages of different footwear and factors affecting appropriate selection for the anticipated track conditions
  • packing and waterproofing techniques, to protect personal and group equipment
  • sufficient knowledge of the students to manage logistical, pastoral or medical issues
  • knowledge of potential hazards that may be encountered while bushwalking (both generally and specific to the location) in order to undertake appropriate risk management.

Required skills

  • navigating skills appropriate to the terrain
  • planning skills in order to calculate food, water, clothing and equipment requirements
  • awareness of personal actions affecting safety of self and others in the group, including bushwalking specific practices
  • cooking skills on portable cooking systems
  • minimal impact camping skills using lightweight, portable equipment
  • first aid and emergency response skills appropriate to the location, to enable initial response to emergencies and personal health issues.

This set of skills and knowledge can be found in the National Recreation Industry Training Package SRO03 within the Units of Competency, SROBWG001A and SROBWG002A. For current information about relevant recreation industry training please refer to training.gov.au.

The designated instructor must also have the capacity to assist group members as needed, especially with emergency response procedures.

The designated assistant to the instructor should have sufficient experience in this activity and must:

  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • be competent in emergency response procedures
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

Documentation of Staff Qualifications and Experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience of accompanying staff member(s).

Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, the guidelines for the use of External providers should be followed.

Supervision

Effective supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity. One staff member is to have responsibility for instruction in the activity and the other is to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for bushwalking.

ActivityStaff requiredStudent numbers
Bushwalking (day walks)21-20
321-30
Bushwalking (overnight walks)21-12
313-18

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • needs of individuals
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location of the activity
  • anticipated conditions at the location.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the school council as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members should supervise students according to this strategy.

Overnight excursions

If the excursion has an overnight component, the Overnight camping guidelines may be relevant.

Informed consent

The school must receive consent from parents or guardians before their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school, parents or guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing and signed by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must carefully consider the nature and location of the excursion, as well as the medical history of the students, to determine the level of first aid training required by staff. For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present. See: Excursion Support – First Aid.

Risks

School staff must refer to the Risk Management section of this website which explains how to prepare a risk register. Risks and possible controls are also explained.

The list below identifies some risks in bushwalking activities. Identifying risk is only one aspect of the risk assessment process. An activity-specific risk management plan must be completed which takes into account the specific conditions and unique participants of the activity.

Bushwalking specific risks
Sample risksSample controls

Individuals are separated from the group and/or become lost.

Pre-activity planning will develop protocols for student and staff responses when individuals are separated from the group and/or become lost.

Students will be briefed on the need to stay in contact with the group. Protocols will be established for leaving the group.

Students must be briefed in appropriate strategies should they become separated from the group.

Staff will keep the group safely in contact with each other, especially when walkers have different paces, where the terrain is difficult, the visibility is poor or the route is uncertain.

Staff will implement strategies to keep the group together which might include frequent rest stops, head counts, buddy systems, meeting at set time intervals or intersections, designated roles amongst the group or students carrying whistles. The strategies might also include having a staff member near the front of the group, in the middle and/or near the back of the group.

While walking, a student or staff member suffers a soft tissue or skeletal injury.

During pre-activity planning, staff will consider students’ skills and experience and ensure that the route is suitable for the group.

Clothing and equipment lists will be provided and will take into account the difficulty of the walk, the season, student abilities and the location of the walk.

During pre-activity planning, staff will develop an emergency response strategy. This strategy will consider possible responses should a group member require outside or medical assistance.

Staff will ensure students travel at a pace suitable for all group members. Throughout the activity, staff will monitor students and consider changing the route or walking style.

A student or staff member falls on steep or rocky terrain.

During pre-activity planning, staff will consider students’ skills and experience and make sure that the walking route is suitable for the group.

If steep and/or rocky terrain is expected, staff must prepare students for this type of environment. This preparation could include briefing students on the placement of feet and selection of path, safe spacing between group members, the dangers of dislodging objects and strategies to avoid dislodgement and appropriate responses in the event of rock or log dislodgement.

When in this terrain, staff will position themselves to reduce student exposure to risk.

A student or staff member experiences hypothermia.

During pre-activity planning, staff will consider students’ skills and experience and make sure that the walking route is suitable for the group.

Staff will monitor prevailing weather and consider adjustments to the activity as appropriate.

Students will be briefed on the need to drink water regularly and general strategies to stay hydrated.

All group members will have and wear appropriate clothing and have the required equipment and knowledge to manage adverse heat conditions.

In hot and dry weather, the group will seek shade for rest stops.

Water consumption by students and staff will be monitored. Care will be taken to ensure that sufficient water is provided for the activity.

Consideration will be given to travelling in the early morning and evening, to avoid heat and greater exposure to ultraviolet rays.

A student gets into trouble or drowns in a body of water encountered during the walk.

During pre-activity planning, staff will consider students’ skills and experience and make sure that the walking route is suitable for the group.

Where water crossings are planned, staff will examine relevant swimming guidelines. Staff will be aware of alternative routes in case the conditions of the water do not match expectations, for example, if there is a flood, strong wind or waves.

Where recreational swimming is a planned part of the bushwalk, staff will hold relevant qualifications as defined in the Recreational swimming guidelines. Appropriate rescue aids will also be available.

Note: See also the risk statements in relation to severe weather events in this table.

A tree branch or tree falls on a student or staff member.

At the start of the walk, staff will brief students about the danger of falling trees and branches. These dangers include, but are not limited to, dead branches or trees, large and heavy overhanging branches, hanging dead wood (loose branches stuck in tree branches), trees that have two or more main trunks, diseased trees, damaged or split trees, fire-damaged trees, trees with cavities or cracks, trees with storm damage, and trees that have grown around and included loose bark. Certain species also have specific risk factors that will be considered.

If there is strong wind during a walk, staff will consider altering the route or cancelling the walk to avoid the danger of falling timber.

During breaks, care will be taken to examine the surrounding trees and consider the appropriateness of the selected rest spot.

A group is caught in a bushfire and faces the danger of equipment damage and/or personal injury or death.

Pre-activity planning will include consideration of the possible fire risk and potential for bushfire in the relevant location. Alternatives will be planned to allow for last-minute change in the event of severe fire danger.

Fires and open fire places will be used in accordance with the requirements of the fire and/or land management authorities.

Students will be briefed on the safe siting and use of fuel stoves and alerted to the risks associated with open flames in a bush setting.

The communication strategy will include mechanisms to ensure that the group is alerted of a potential Total Fire Ban or other communications from fire authorities.

In addition, staff will consider prevailing local conditions and adjust the activity accordingly. Adjustments could include further consultation with the school and/or land management authorities to determine course of action, adjusting the route, evacuation, changing location or cancellation of the activity.

A student or staff member experiences an illness during the walk due to unsafe food or drink or poor hygiene.

Pre-activity planning will include route options to allow for illness, slowed or delayed travel.

Staff will be aware that illnesses may affect the energy levels and ability of students to cope with the activity.

Staff will carry current and confidential medical details for each student.

Staff will be aware of food safety as described in the School Policy and Advisory Guide, see: Safe Food Handling

Staff will ensure that safe food storage practices are followed. Staff will also be aware of any group members with food allergies.

Staff will ensure safe water sources are available for the group, and will refer to local land managers to determine sources of safe water where necessary. Students will be advised not to share water bottles, cutlery and cups to reduce the risk of cross infection.

Staff will ensure that students are appropriately trained in food safety practices, including hygiene after toileting. Staff will ensure appropriate washing systems for both hands and food equipment.

Staff will ensure that the group adopts low-impact travel strategies (particularly with regard to toileting and the protection of water courses) to reduce the risk of illness.

During pre-activity planning, staff will develop an emergency response strategy. This strategy will consider actions that should be taken if a group member requires outside or medical assistance.

Generic risks
Sample riskSample control

A pre-existing medical condition results in injury or illness during the excursion.

Staff will collect and then review current confidential medical information for all students and staff. Where uncertainty exists, additional information will be sought.

At least one staff member will have a minimum of a level two first aid qualification and a first aid kit, which is appropriate to the activity and the environments to be encountered.

Medical information will be carried by staff on the excursion and referred to as necessary.

At the start of the excursion, staff will ensure that there is no new illness that may have an impact on the ability of the affected student(s) or staff to participate. Consideration will also be given as to whether that illness might spread to others in the group.

The emergency response strategy will include communication and evacuation procedures.

Staff or student fatigue results in incident and/or injury.

During the planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the activity is suitable.

The group will adopt appropriately timed rest stops. Food and water breaks will match the activity intensity, weather conditions and the group’s abilities.

Food and water intake will be monitored during the excursion to ensure all participants are eating and drinking adequately.

Staff will monitor each student and consider strategies to support the group and individuals. This may include altered intensity and loads, changing the activity, obtaining outside support, evacuations or cancellation of the activity.

A group is caught in severe weather or a thunderstorm resulting in injury.

The chosen venue, activity and season will be appropriate to the group.

Staff will obtain regular Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts for the specific area they will be in and, if necessary, adjust the activity.

Staff will observe the weather before and during the activity and adjust the activity accordingly.

Staff will consider exposure to tree and lightning hazards.

The emergency response strategy will include possible responses should severe weather or a thunderstorm occur.

A transport accident occurs while travelling to or from the venue.

The vehicle must be appropriately insured and maintained. Where the vehicle is a bus, it must be regularly inspected by a licensed bus tester.

Drivers will have the appropriate drivers licence and certificates for the planned journey. Drivers will perform a daily vehicle check (see the Victorian Bus & Truck Drivers Handbook, Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws all drivers will take sufficient breaks from driving. Drivers will also be sufficiently rested prior to driving.

Drivers will allow sufficient time for the planned journey and adjust speed to suit the driving conditions.

A student or staff member suffers a bite or sting causing illness or death.

Students and staff will have clear and relevant clothing/equipment lists, which reflect the possibility of bites or stings, and have appropriate first aid equipment.

Staff will carry current and confidential medical information for all students and staff participating in the activity. Staff will ensure there are appropriate medications available and an emergency response strategy to support a worsening condition.

Resources

Relevant documents
External resources