It is very obvious to all concerned, organisations and the leaders who work with them, that it is imperative to avoid situations that may lead to the injury of a participant as a result of negligence in the duty of care. Initially a leader is inclined to be very cautious in their work with a participant with a disability, not being quite sure of what constitutes a breach of duty of care. As their confidence in working in this area develops, they will also become more aware of potentially risky situations and therefore develop strategies for assessing potential risks and working in such a way that their impact can be minimised.

When in doubt about a situation it can be useful to talk to other leaders about it and seek some feedback. This action in itself can be seen as taking steps to avoid a breach of duty of care. The following preparation will help to avoid situations where harm or injury may occur.

Come to know:

  • a participant's capacity to carry out activities, and how to carry out similar activities safely;
  • a participant's awareness of the risks that might be involved and how they can be avoided;
  • the dangers involved in an activity and how well the participant is equipped to deal with them;
  • what you can learn from relevant assessments or reports regarding the participant, their vulnerability and their skills; and
  • Be careful to avoid rumour or hearsay.

Rely on your common sense in making assessments about the degree to which injury to a particular participant in a particular situation is foreseeable.

Considering what is reasonable in avoiding injury

A leader is not expected to provide absolute protection against all possible injuries of the participant who are owed the duty of care, but rather to do whatever would be considered reasonable in the circumstances.

Therefore, with most activities it is matter of working out what is reasonable. The following will assist in doing this:

Look for the course of action that involves the least possible restriction of the participant's rights. It is never reasonable in protecting participants from injury or harm to restrict participants or violate their rights or freedoms any more than are necessary.

Do not shelter participants from all risks. We have a responsibility to empower people with disabilities to take a greater control over, and responsibility for, the situations in which they are confronted. This includes risks. Risks are part of life and provide the means by which participant grow and develop. Help them to confront risks safely by providing support in ways that are likely to assist the person to deal with risky situations in ways that do not result in injury. This is called’ dignity of risk’ and is a feature of sport and active recreation programs.

Ask the following questions when deciding about a potentially harmful situation:

  • What are the reasons for thinking that someone might experience some harm or injury?
  • What am I basing my assessment on? Can I check this with someone else?
  • How great are the risks involved?
  • Are the risks indisputable or are they just risks from my own personal perspective in an attempt to be protective?
  • Are the things that I plan to do to avoid risk of injury reasonable? and
  • Can I find ways to support the person to learn from the risks and confront them safely?