Health and Safety Executive

According to the Health and Safety Executive, (cited in The British Mountaineering Council, 2003b,) there are five steps to risk assessment: Step 1 Look for hazards; Step 2 Decide who might be harmed and how; Step 3 Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done; Step 4 Record your findings; Step 5 Review your assessment and revise if necessary.

A hazard could be anything that might cause harm, for example rock fall or bad weather. Risk is the chance that somebody will be harmed by the hazard, for example that the rock fall will hit somebody or that the bad weather will cause hypothermia. For a day out with friends or peers a mental assessment might suffice whereas if running an Outdoor Centre a formal written assessment would be required. (The British Mountaineering Council, 2003b.) In either situation, the risk assessment is a dynamic process whereby risks are continually assessed and decisions made to reduce these risks as much as is reasonably possible.

In a professional situation, such as running an Outdoor Centre, risk assessment is just one of many requirements asked for and inspected by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA). AALA is an independent watchdog on the delivery of outdoor adventure activities for young people. It is a cross-departmental public authority, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, and operating under the written guidance of the Health and Safety Commission. The licensing scheme provides an assurance to the public about the safety of those activity providers who have been granted a license. (Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, 2002.)

A group leader has the ever present practical problem of maintaining the right balance between apparent danger and safety. As such one needs to control safety factors so as to create a discreet background framework of good practice working to ensure feelings of excitement, interest and curiosity, exploration, adventure, achievement and a general enjoyment of mountaineering activities. (Langmuir, 2003.)

An important element that helps one weigh up all factors and come up with the best answer, for a particular party in a specific situation, is experience. Therefore the quality of a leader’s own personal experience is also going to be a crucial factor. A leader must be able to distinguish between apparent and real danger and a leader must know their own strengths and weaknesses so as to be able to recognise and avoid situations. (Langmuir, 2003.)

In order to ensure the safer enjoyment and understanding of the hills by young people the Mountain Leader Training Scheme provides training and assessment in the technical skills required by those wishing to lead groups of young people in the mountains and moorlands of the British Isles. There is a Summer Award and a Winter Award. The mountain leader training scheme provides the opportunity to gain minimum technical competence for leading parties in the hills and seeks to integrate training, experience, and assessment. It does not provide a professional qualification. (Langmuir, 1984.) The scheme is regularly update and reviewed as the process of best practice is developed. The awards are recognised by the government, AALA, and other statutory and voluntary organisations. (Long, 2003.)

There are further qualifications leading on from the Summer and Winter Mountain Leader Awards, these are the Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA) and the Mountain Instructors Certificate (MIC). These awards cover further technical aspects of mountaineering including all aspects of rock climbing, and for the MIC, includes snow and ice climbing. (The British Mountaineering Council, 2004.) The Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) is the representative body of professionally qualified mountaineering instructors in the British Isles.

There is also the Walking Group Leader Award that one can do prior to doing the Summer and Winter Leader Awards. This covers most of the basic technical skills required to lead groups walking in the British summer time, but is not as comprehensive as the Mountain Leader Awards.

A leader needs to be respected for their technical skills, their physical fitness and their experience and knowledge. These things aside, one must also be like however, for their people skills, their interest in people as individuals, their readiness to notice tone of voice and body language, and to act tactfully and discreetly on what is noticed. (The British Mountaineering Council, 2003c.) Everyone has a preferred style of leadership somewhere along a continuum running from Authoritarian at one end to Democratic at the other. (Martens, 2004.) As a leader, it is vital to remain flexible. It is important to be able to vary one’s style of leadership, not only to suite the situation, but also to suit the needs of individuals. People need to be treated and communicated with as individuals as well as members of a group. Martens, 2004.)

Being a good leader encourages effective, enjoyable and safe climbing for groups. A responsible leader takes into consideration the age and ability of the group and adapts their leadership style to fit the requirements of the individuals in that group. Full consideration of the necessary legal requirements is taken into account and one shows a duty of care to all those participating in mountaineering activities with and around them. Special consideration is taken when working with young people to ensure a comfortable and safe environment, and one would hole the necessary qualification required. In any situation an ongoing risk assessment is performed in order to reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring. Mountaineering activities are inherent high-risk activities and it is the role of the person leading the group to minimise this risk as much as is reasonably possible, in order to ensure the participants experience the thrill of the activity.


Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA). (2002). The Licensing Authority. Internet source produced by Adventure Activities Licensing Authority. [Electronically accessed 24th November 2005.] Cronin, C. (1991). ‘Sensation seeking among mountain climbers’. Personality and Individual Differences. 12.6.p653-654. Langmuir, E. (2003). Mountaincraft and leadership. 3rd Edition. The Scottish Sports Council. Long, S. (2003). Hillwalking: The Official Handbook of the Mountain Leader and Walking Group Leader Schemes. Nottingham: Mountain Leader Training UK.

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