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After outdoor mishaps with schoolkids, instructors now required to go through detailed checklists

SINGAPORE: Outdoor instructors conducting height-based activities in schools are required to fill up comprehensive checklists - a measure made official in the aftermath of serious safety incidents involving students.

Known as the pre-use checklist, the document looks at the condition of personal protective equipment (PPE) like harnesses and helmets as well as going over the high elements involved during the activities. 

The outdoor adventure education sector has been hit by two cases where instructors failed to check or properly secure students during height-based activities. 

Last month, a former freelance instructor was sentenced to two months' jail after a nine-year-old girl fell four floors from a flying fox structure and suffered fractures.

A month earlier, a volunteer instructor was given six months' jail over the death of a 15-year-old student in a high-element obstacle course.

In response to CNA’s queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said it formalised the pre-use checklists in February 2023, when height-based activities for school programmes resumed after a two-year pause due to the 15-year-old's death.

The checklists will help instructors “systemically” check challenge course equipment and facilities prior to conducting activities at MOE’s Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres and schools with challenge course facilities.

And the practice is aligned to standards set by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), an international trade association and standards developer.

Before the two incidents, there was no required checklist, although it was “best practice” in the industry to conduct checks before carrying out any activity, said secretary-general of the Outdoor Learning & Adventure Education Association (OLAE) Delane Lim.

He added that it was essential for instructors to not merely go through the checks “without genuine engagement”. 

Freelance instructor Michael Lim also noted that the checklists have become more comprehensive.

“After the incidents, everything has been stepped up. We … easily take another hour more just to check the equipment, go through the paperwork, going through the list to make sure that every single thing is checked for,” said the 46-year-old, who has been an instructor for about 30 years. 

Managing director and co-founder of Blackbox Outdoor Education Lye Yen Kai said MOE's requirements have been tighter since the incidents.

Under enhanced safety measures announced by the ministry in November 2022, all operators offering height-based activities for MOE students must ensure their facilities are accredited regularly by a National Sports Association or a regional outdoor adventure learning professional body.

Schools must only engage accredited operators and qualified instructors such as those with ACCT certifications.

“Since the accidents, MOE has really been pushing the bar higher,” said Mr Lye, whose company trains outdoor educators. 

“We can also understand as an industry because it’s children. The school has a duty of care, we have a duty of care."

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