Adventure Activity Standards: FAQS

Adventure Activity Standards: FAQS

Read all the current FAQs related to the Adventure Activity Standards

Is compliance with AAS now the law in Victoria

No. The only time AAS are statutory requirements in Victoria is through the existing Public Land Tour Operator and Activity Provider Licence for carrying out a trade or a business on Crown land. There is always a legal expectation that activities are conducted in a reasonable manner. AAS describe a commonly accepted minimum standard for these activities but they remain voluntary guidelines. For Example… If a group chooses not to comply with any aspect of the AAS because that aspect does not apply to the specific circumstances of an activity; and the organisation and leader are confident that the decisions made were reasonable (usually based on an assessment of the specific risks involved) then the leader and organisation may well be found, in court, to have acted in a reasonable manner should an incident occur on their activity.

Have the Adventure Activity Standards been developed in response to insurance issues?

The standard grew out of concerns within the outdoor recreation industry where commercial operators, non-commercial operators and individual government agencies have all expressed a need for documented standards that will apply to all group led outdoor recreation activities perceived as high risk. The AAS have initially been supported by the State Government as a result of industry advice and, more recently, in response to the withdrawal of insurance provision for outdoor adventure activities. Other key outcomes include but are not limited to: All organisations and the general public conducting or looking to conduct activities have free access to common practices. Contact details for all key organisations are available for each activity. Free access to current information regarding the Victorian legal system as it applies to the provision of adventure activities (Tort and contract law). Sector ownership of the standards that are being referred to by both: Organisational Accreditation (National and state schemes). Commercial tour operator licensing for crown land. Promotion of activity specific environmental considerations.

Do my friends and I need to comply with the AAS? (Private recreation)

AAS are accepted minimum standards for formal groups (organisations) where participants have a level of dependence upon the organisation and leader. AAS may be however, be a useful reference for any in-formal group or individual undertaking the activities they describe. For example… In the case of Bushwalking, the AAS has been developed for organisations such as clubs, community groups and commercial activity providers. It would be advantageous for individuals and informal groups to refer to the Vic Walk Walksafe booklet. Copies can be obtained from Vic Walk  vicwalk@netspace.net.au 

Are the Adventure Activity Standards ‘Best Practice’ in commercial terms?

No. There is a common philosophy in the outdoors that activities are safe when groups and individuals have the appropriate knowledge and skill to avoid, or appropriately manage any problems that they may encounter. This may be because people are already planing in advance in areas such as location, level of challenge, necessary clothing and equipment, food and they will generally consider potential difficulties and develop a plan b should things not go as expected. When the members of a group are being led on an activity by an organisation (a formal group where participants are likely to be dependant on the leader) the above is no longer a philosophy but a community and legal expectation. It is important for this reason that the organisations and their leaders should interpret the AAS for the specific needs of the participants, purpose and the complexity of each specific activity. For example… Best practice could dictate that a Satellite phone and Personal locator beacons would be a minimum requirement for communication and emergency equipment in most circumstances and for most activities. The AAS recognise that for some groups a mobile phone or other affordable system may be appropriate.

Are AAS going to be enforced as conditions of entry by land managers?

AAS are not currently mandatory requirements for any group other than those businesses that fall within the Parks Victoria-managed licensing system for commercial tour operators on public land. The Department of Sustainability and Environment has stated that there is no intention to more closely regulate general recreational activity on public land. The Department’s policy Sustainable Recreation and Tourism on Victoria’s Public Land promotes ‘equitable access’ and ‘as of right access’ as a clear policy position, except where there is a management plan or management reason to limit that access. Making the AAS compulsory for all users is contrary to a whole range of well accepted Government objectives around trying to increase participation in outdoor activity, enhance stewardship of public land and reduce unnecessary regulation. There are however existing regulations which apply to all users such as the National Parks (Parks) Regulations 2003, Forests (Fire Protection) Regulations 2004 and the Wildlife (Whales) Regulations 1998. DSE and other land managers will continue to encourage the use of the AAS as voluntary industry-developed standards and will support processes for continual improvement of the standards. At defined locations, where there does have to be closer management of recreational and educational group activity for environmental, safety or amenity reasons, the AAS will be considered as an industry benchmark and used if appropriate.

Documentation is time consuming, why do AAS expect documentation?

The introduction to each AAS states that: “Having suitable risk management programs and strategies in place, and ensuring the AAS are met, will minimise the likelihood of injury or loss. However, evidence of compliance with such programs and the AAS will also assist in the legal defence of claims and in proving that a provider and its leaders have acted reasonably in the circumstances (i.e. were not negligent). “ Some documentation is for safety reasons such as an emergency strategy that enables the leader to act in a defined manner and enables dependant participants to act appropriately if the leader is injured. Other documentation is intended to protect the organisation and leader conducting the activities from legal liability. In the absence of documentation, it can be very difficult for an organisation to demonstrate that an activity was conducted appropriately if an incident should occur. Bearing in mind the fact that a legal action may take many years before being made, it is in an organisations best interest to comply with the minimum documentation described in AAS at a level appropriate to the organisation, group and the activity.

Do AAS apply equally to commercial and non-commercially led groups?

Yes. AAS have been carefully developed to describe a safe and responsible practice for group activities. Commercial and non-commercial groups can interpret the AAS as they see fit provided decisions are made carefully (preferably based upon a risk assessment). This is because, if the courts are required to establish duty and standard of care, they are likely to consider the resources available to the organisation and the requirements of the participants as well as the commercial nature of the activity. It is common that a commercial organisation will generally claim to be specialist, enter into a contract to provide services and also have greater resources available to them indicating a fairly high standard of care owed to participants. Community groups on the other hand are often established as a formal group of experienced participants, few promises are made by the organisation and activities are often of fairly low intensity. However in some cases, after consideration of the specific details of an incident, it is possible for a community organisation to be held to the same or a higher standard than a commercial organisation.

Do AAS replace the Department of Education and Training’s (DE&T)Safety in Outdoor Adventure Activities Series (Safety Guidelines)?

No. The Adventure Activity Standards acknowledge and promote the importance of each and every organisation having their own standards and operating procedures. The DE&T has traditionally provided detailed policies and guidelines to assist Government schools in planning and implementing safe but challenging outdoor adventure activities. Such advice forms the basis of the Safety Guidelines. This series is currently being revised, with the AAS one of the valuable references to be used to inform the process. In the absence of alternative DE&T advice it is the Department’s existing policy that principals, teachers and school council members comply with the relevant Adventure Activity Standards when planning or endorsing a school adventure activity camp or excursion, and consider the greater duty of care that may be required for students.

Why do AAS refer to the competency-based National Training Package?

AAS have been developed so that they are consistent across activities. The National Training Package is Australia’s only federally endorsed and consistent standard describing the skills that an individual should have for a specific activity at a given level. As these are developed within the sector (nationally over the past 10 years) it is appropriate that they be used in the AAS process. For some activities covered by AAS, there are “community awards” for the leaders and instructors (Canoeing, Rock Climbing, Horse Trail Riding etc.). The AAS do not specify experience nor do they require these skills to have been acquired via any particular learning pathway. Where non-VET qualifications exist, they generally demonstrate equivalence to, or at least the intent of the units documented in the AAS but the emphasis will be on the training providers or the individual leader to compare course content. (The Outdoor Council of Australia is currently supporting the Victorian Universities initiative to develop equivalent course descriptors intended to facilitate comparisons between tertiary and vocational outcomes.)