Learning the hard way
Sad lessons following a fatal SUP trip
Pharos' generic observations for safety planning
Today marks the public release of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s (MAIB) report into a tragic paddle-board incident on 30 October 2021. On that day, nine adventure-loving people set off for a great day out on the River Cleddau in Wales; tragically four would never return home.
The experts at MAIB have done an excellent job in preparing this report and while it makes for some harrowing reading, it serves as a reminder for anyone who plans to use a stand up paddle-board (SUP) on a river to take heed. For companies hiring-out paddle boards or leading activity sessions, this report should clearly be reviewed in detail.
Inevitably within reports such as this, there are multiple lessons to be learned. There will be experts who are much better placed to identify the individual technical aspects contained within this report but Pharos Response have been asked to highlight some generic aspects of safety planning that stand out to us that could apply to a range of different activities and events.
- Competent staff will always be the single most important measure to keep participants safe.
- A structured approach to assessing risk is fundamental to the safe management of activity. This should be a planning process conducted by competent staff and is much more than a piece of paper that is written and filed away.
- A risk assessment should be flexible to accommodate changes in conditions – this is often referred to as a ‘dynamic’ risk assessment and is one normally made by leaders immediately before or during an activity, based upon local risk factors such as weather conditions and the experience or fitness of participants.
- Communicating the key points of a risk assessment to staff and participants before an activity is essential. A verbal safety briefing to participants is normally the most effective way of sharing this information as it allows participants to ask questions and for leaders to confirm their understanding before starting the activity.
- Ensuring that equipment and clothing is suitable for the activity and conditions will always be part of a risk assessment. But it is then essential that leaders ensure participants use this during the activity, especially equipment that has a safety function. Specific to paddle boards, this report highlights the role of ankle leashes vs quick release belts and buoyancy aids that SUP users or operators are advised to consider in detail.
- Activity leaders should always have the confidence to disappoint participants and change an activity or turn back in the interest of safety, often known as having a Plan B. It is of course better to manage disappointment than an emergency situation.
These points are not new and any leader or provider of activities will have heard them before but it is so sad that they bear repeating after such a tragic event like the one in Haverfordwest in October 2021.
The report can be found on the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s website here