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YMCA staff team up with rescue experts to improve safety

14th February 2012

YMCA staff team up with rescue experts to improve safety

Outdoor Safety is a topic which is currently under the spotlight in New Zealand following a series of devastating accidents, and a mandate from the Prime Minister John Key to investigate and resolve the issues relating to getting an appropriate balance between safety and adventure in the Outdoor environment.

The YMCA of Christchurch was just one of many Outdoor Education providers who felt tremendous sorrow and empathy for those involved in the tragedy that occurred in the Mangatepopo River in April 2008, that claimed 7 lives. The event was particularly acute for the YMCA staff who work as outdoor instructors and who also regularly take groups down an 80 metre waterfall abseil and canyon, situated on privately owned land on the Banks Peninsula.

The YMCA of Christchurch has determined to ensure that staff continuously question and evaluate organisational systems, policies and practice when it comes to their more ‘dangerous’ or ‘risky’ outdoor activities.

It was in this spirit that a team consisting of YMCA outdoor instructors and some of the Christchurch Alpine Cliff Rescue Team converged on the 80 metre waterfall abseil and canyon that is a site of outdoor education for YMCA school groups and corporate clients, last Saturday.

“It is of course a huge responsibility for staff to undertake to lead others on trips that are at the same time fantastic for their challenge and the environment, but also inevitably risky. It is crucial that the people, the environment and the equipment used are all carefully considered before, during and after any trip. No two trips are the same when you are dealing with groups of people and Mother Nature. The question has to always be asked: Do the learning and developmental benefits outweigh the risk? And can we manage the risk to avoid serious harm? It is important for me and my team that we keep asking those questions, and ensure the training of our staff is one of continuous improvement.” Said Josie Ogden Schroeder, CEO of the YMCA of Christchurch.

With the forecast to clear and temperatures to rise, the briefing at 8am that morning at YMCA Wainui Park was filled with the promise of a day full of challenge, adventure, and reflection on safe practice between the two organisations. While the Christchurch Alpine Cliff Rescue team are always looking for demanding areas in which to do exercises and test their equipment and team work, the YMCA outdoor staff are always looking for new knowledge and insight which can improve the safety and quality of the activities that they offer the community.

Beginning with a hike carrying heavy equipment (100 metre ropes, climbing gear, wetsuits, helmets, lunch…) the 80 metre abseil in the icy waterfall was followed by a hike down the very slippery and uneven gorge. This involved negotiating several more small abseils, some small waterslides and some very difficult terrain where ankles and shins came out worse for wear. Many hours later the group re-emerged via a farm track to their vehicles for a discussion on how to better manage the risks in the gorge, and a determination to have ongoing training days together.

The YMCA of Christchurch is a Charitable Trust which is in its 150th year of community service. The YMCA works in a range of sectors – including outdoor education, health & fitness, recreation, accommodation, early childhood education, youth training, youth development and camping. The YMCA vision is ‘Building Strong People, Strong Families, Strong Communities.’


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