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  • Jeff Baierlein

Viristar and American Camp Association Offer Webinar on Role of Just Culture in Safety at Camp

Training Session Focuses On Applying Systems Thinking Principles To Addressing Risk Management Issues At Camp

Viristar is pleased to offer a webinar on “The Role of Just Culture in Safety at Camp” to members of the American Camp Association and anyone interested, on March 9, 2022 from 1 to 2 pm Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5).

The presentation offers insights and focused guidance to leadership of camps and related programs that can help them understand the underlying causes why incidents occur, and improve safety outcomes at their organization.

The event cost is $20 for ACA members and $40 for non-members. It’s one of a series of educational experiences led by Viristar and made available to the American Camp Association community.

Just Culture

The idea of “Just Culture” is, in essence, that when an incident occurs, it’s important to look at the underlying causes of the mishap, rather than just reflexively blame the person closest to the unwanted occurrence.

“Culture” can be described as the beliefs and values held by a person or group. These beliefs and values drive behavior. “Just,” in our context, refers to justice—fair and ethical treatment of another.

Risk management theory teaches us that the causes of incidents are often multi-layered, with underlying causes, sometimes not immediately apparent, having an important role to play in leading to a mishap coming to pass. Incidents are seen as the end result of the interaction of risks in a complex system of risk factors. A systems thinking approach is necessary to bring to light these sometimes hidden deeper causes of an unwanted event.

Just Culture, then, is driven by a recognition of the usefulness of systems thinking approach to incident prevention, and by prioritizing the identification of the true casual factors that made something occur. When beliefs and values like these are put into practice, we call this Just Culture.

But this is extremely hard.

When a camp incident occurs, it’s important to look for underlying causes.

It’s natural to experience anger when one doesn’t get what one wants. When a camp director learns that a camp counselor made a significant mistake, it can be instinctual to want to punish that camp counselor by, for example, firing them on the spot for their poor judgment.

Just Culture, however, asks us to do the cognitively more difficult work of investigating deeper issues that led to the incident.

Campers canoeing on a large lake got separated from each other when the wind picked up unexpectedly, and had to get rescued by emergency responders when they were blown to distant parts of the lake. The camp counselors clearly failed to prevent the incident. Should they be fired? Let’s look deeper:

  • The camp had no procedure to check the weather before embarking on paddling trips.

  • The camp didn’t require counselors to become certified in canoe skills or paddling safety.

  • Staff training included a handout of canoe procedures, but it was never discussed or practiced.

We can see that improved safety procedures and training could have better supported the trip leaders, and helped make sure the paddlers had a fun and incident-free experience.

When we address underlying issues like these, we put Just Culture into practice.

By doing this, we not only treat our colleagues better, but we are more effective in preventing future incidents from taking place.

Viristar and the American Camp Association

Viristar and ACA have collaborated for years on safety-related trainings for camp professionals. Viristar has presented at ACA conferences both in-person (pre-pandemic) and virtually. And Viristar’s Risk Management for Outdoor Programs 40-hour online training course, which is educationally endorsed by the ACA, is offered by ACA to camp staff as an approved professional development event.

Viristar’s Risk Management for Outdoor Programs training is educationally endorsed by ACA.

Viristar’s Director Jeff Baierlein, who will be leading the webinar, has years of experience overseeing ACA-accredited programs and camps. Jeff managed the high ropes challenge course operations at an ACA-accredited camp in California for many years, and was in charge of a group of six ACA-accredited camps in the Pacific Northwest providing 100,000 user days a year.

Just Culture Webinar

The webinar, The Role of Just Culture in Safety at Camp, will be held live on March 9. A recording of the webinar will also be available in the ACA course catalog.

All are welcome to attend!


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