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An open letter to camp counselors.

Since this summer issue goes directly to camps, it seems appropriate to address some risk management issues that should be the concern of everyone in the camp community.

School's over. Exams are behind us. We're ready to unwind and relax. We've accepted our positions at camp. We've read our handbooks and listened to orientation presentations about safety procedures. We may have even attended conferences and seminars on risk management. We know safety is everyone's responsibility and we're ready for the summer I Or are we?

A counselor's role in camp is primarily to provide supervision and ensure the safety and well being of the campers entrusted by their parents to the owners of the camp.

Sometimes counselors lose sight of this important role. Others come to camp with a different set of goals -- goals which may not be compatible with the camp's goals for the summer.

To ensure safety and fulfill your role as a counselor you must develop an attitude about safety. Basically, you must follow the rules and procedures established by the camp director, think and use your common sense. And this applies to your own activities as well.

Here are a few things to consider and remember.

Campers come in various shapes and sizes. They also have differing levels of ability. And after a busy school year they may or may not be physically fit for the activities you are supervising at camp.

Insurance companies have paid many claims when campers are injured during an activity because of fatigue. Likewise, injuries occur when campers are encouraged to participate in an activity at a level that exceeds their ability.

So think and be smart. Give rest, find the shade, have water available and know your camper's abilities. And use all safety devices.

This applies to you too! Our experience shows that counselors are as susceptible to injuries from incidents at camp as campers are. In some types of camps, counselors may be even more exposed. Unfortunately, we see claims every year from counselors who are injured because they didn't warm up before an activity or because they re-injured a knee or an ankle due to carelessness about using a brace. Take responsibility! Remind a fellow counselor if she forgets her brace. Our objective is to have a safe and enjoyable summer for everyone at camp.

We reviewed several years worth of workers' compensation claims recently. These claims involved counselors at camp. The most common injuries were to ankles, knees, and backs. Many of the ankle injuries were sprains and tears of ligaments and tendons. A lot of these injuries could have been eliminated if counselors had chosen the right footwear.

Many injuries occurred because sneakers were untied, or sandals or boat shoes were worn inappropriately during certain activities. We recommend soft hiking boots or "cross trainer" style sneakers with enough ankle support to reduce the number of incidents and injuries sustained.

This common sense approach applies to campers during their activities too! Injuries and accidents at camp cost money. Camps buy insurance, but eventually someone has to pay the bill.

If one of your jobs at camp is to drive campers in a van, remember the van is very different than your family car. It drives one way when empty and another when it's full of campers and equipment.

Take your time, leave a little earlier, stay within the speed limits. Remember that rural roads are different from the highways and urban/suburban streets with which you're familiar. The shoulders are soft on rural roads and require all your attention.

Vans are slower. We see a large number of accidents in intersections where drivers have misjudged the timing of turns across oncoming traffic.

Vans are longer than your family car. Walk behind the van before you back it up. Make sure there is no one or nothing behind it. If you have another counselor with you, ask him or her to stand behind and direct you while you're backing up.

And please don't drink and drive on your day off. Most camps have rules which result in dismissal if you're intoxicated at camp. But the consequences of drinking and driving are much greater.

We have seen far too many deaths and serious injuries involving counselors and alcohol. Everyone likes to let off steam, but there are ways of managing fun on your day off. Be smart, use common sense and don't become a statistic.

There are other problems with drinking to excess, legally or illegally. We won't moralize. But please consider your abilities the day after you've had too much to drink. Will you be attentive at the waterfront or behind the wheel of the van ? Will you be able to ensure the safety of the campers entrusted to you if you are hung over? Other people can be victimized because you drink to excess and can't perform the duties expected of you.

So, please think twice this summer about alcohol and how you use it, if at all.

Be aware this summer! Take a few minutes before and after each activity. What went the way you planned? What didn't? Consider ways to make it safer, Make suggestions to the head counselor or director. Take responsibility! Think smart! Although you may never know what you prevented, you will have made a priceless contribution to someone's summer experience.

Have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Clarification on Bloodborne Pathogens Regulations

In last month's column we identified some information from OSHA that is in conflict with information provided by other OSHA officials on the same topic. We share the camp director's frustration at getting different answers from different persons ! We do suggest you contact your state OSHA officials for specific guidance. Since state officials are implementing the rule, they will be your best source for current information. Let us alert you to three areas of conflicting information at this point in time.


We indicated that regulations specifically applied to ocean lifeguards. This is a quote from the standard itself. However, in at letter to Marge Scanlin at ACA, the director of compliance programs indicated that "...[all] lifeguards are generally considered to be emergency responders and are therefore considered to have occupational exposure." Regardless of where your guards work, their responsibilities bring them into potential exposure. Thus, they should be offered the vaccine.

Trip Leaders

Any staff who could become exposed to bloodborne pathogens, and who would be more than 24 hours from a medical facility that could provide the vaccine, should be offered the vaccine prior to departure. Trip leaders going into the backcountry are a good example of this regulation.

Staff with collateral first aid duties

While it is clear your medical staff need to be offered the vaccine, must you vaccinate all counselors who might offer first aid? OSHA's July 6, 1992 memo clearly permits vaccination following exposure for persons with collateral duties, if that vaccination can begin within 24 hours. The conflicting information we have deals with who has to be vaccinated. One OSHA official said everyone who gives first aid (even ice on a sprained ankle), whether or not blood or body fluids were involved. Other officials have told us to vaccinate only those who had an unprotected exposure incident 10 blood/fluids.

Due to conflicting information, we strongly urge you to seek the advice of state officials about conditions requiring your provision of the vaccination.

Ed Schirick is senior vice president of the Markel Rhulen Underwriters and Brokers camp and youth recreation division. He is a charted property casualty underwriter and a certified insurance counselor. Send your risk management inquiries to: Ed Schirick, c/o Markel Rhulen Underwriters and Brokers, 4600 Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA 23058
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:risk management for camp counselors
Author:Evans, Will
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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