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  • Jeff Baierlein

Viristar celebrates a year-long training collaboration with Outward Bound Singapore

Kayaking around Singapore. Credit: OB Singapore

Viristar is pleased to have successfully completed an engagement with Outward Bound Singapore spanning the length 2021, working with staff from several OBS departments on reviewing best practices in outdoor risk management and identifying strategic improvement opportunities for the organization’s already impressive safety management system.

Viristar had scheduled a multi-day outdoor risk management training to be held in Singapore in May 2020, but this was postponed due to the pandemic. A few senior staff from OBS who had registered for that course instead participated in a 40-hour online version of the training, held in January 2021, along with participants from Australia, peninsular Malaysia, and Borneo.

The training was well-received, and OBS expanded their involvement with Viristar. Over the course of 2021, more than 20 Outward Bound Singapore staff from several OBS departments, including Operational Safety Management, Training, and Operations, completed the training.

(The trainings were facilitated by Viristar's Director, Jeff Baierlein, who, prior to Viristar, worked for Outward Bound for 10 years in roles from instructor to Executive Director, leading and overseeing courses in the USA, Mexico and Canada, and who also led outdoor safety trainings for OB staff at Outward Bound schools in Finland, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, USA, Hong Kong, and Belgium.)

The four-week training is offered by Viristar once a month, and OBS elected to send their team members through the training in small groups of up to four employees at a time, over multiple months, so that OBS staff could share insights with and learn from course-mates from other outdoor and adventure programs around the world.

This gave Outward Bound Singapore staff the opportunity to connect with outdoor educators from dozens of countries, and build relationships with course participants working at Outward Bound schools in other locations, from Brunei Darussalam to Hong Kong and Croatia.

The last cohort of Outward Bound Singapore staff completed their training with Viristar at the end of December 2021.

OBS students preparing to sail. Credit: OB Singapore

A Successful Collaboration

Viristar is grateful for the opportunity to work with the talented and accomplished staff from Outward Bound Singapore. We’re happy to have been able to share our safety training resources with the OBS team, and appreciate the generosity with which OBS professionals shared their outstanding risk management systems and procedures with other course participants.

Syed Ismail Bin Sayadu Sultan, Assistant Director and Master Instructor in OBS’ Training Department, worked with Viristar to set up the initial OBS participation in Viristar’s training courses. His leadership was instrumental in expanding the collaboration after the first training class with OBS staff, in which he participated.

After graduating from that course, Syed commented: “Viristar's Risk Management for Outdoor Programs course is intensive and thought-provoking, designed to make one critically think about the adequacy of the existing risk management systems one has in place (individually or as an organization, big or small). It goes beyond theory and gets into the realities of application, which is useful for both novices as well as seasoned practitioners.”

About Outward Bound Singapore

Outward Bound Singapore was founded in 1967, originally under the government-sponsored People’s Association and the country’s Ministry of Defense. (As a small state surrounded by much larger countries, Singapore is keenly aware of the need to have resilient citizenry with the capacities to see to the country’s strength and sustainability.)

In 2015, OBS became part of the National Youth Council, an agency under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

In 2019, OBS served more than 22,000 Singaporean young people, and it’s now the biggest of the 38 Outward Bound schools worldwide. (Originally named “Outward Bound School of Singapore,” in 1991 the institution was renamed “Outward Bound Singapore.”)

OB Singapore is rapidly growing, however.

In 2014, the MCCY and Singapore’s Ministry of Education began working on a National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan, which was completed in 2016. The plan, which OBS was involved in developing, calls for all Secondary 3 students (14-15 year olds) to participate in a five-day Outward Bound course to strengthen self-efficacy, resilience and social cohesion.

The course is an expedition-based adventure requiring teamwork and collaboration between students from different Ministry of Education schools, who come together for their OB experience. In addition, the schools conduct pre- and post-course lessons to prepare students for Outward Bound and support transference of the learning from their course to other aspects of their lives.

The Outward Bound experience for Secondary 3 students is only one component of a multi-year outdoor education experience for all Singaporean students in Ministry of Education schools, however.

Under the national curriculum plan, students also have an outdoor education experience in upper primary school, and another early in their secondary school years. The five-day OBS “Challenge Programme” is a capstone experience of sorts to these earlier camps.

OBS’ Pulau Ubin campus. Credit: OB Singapore

OBS has had a 22-acre two-campus complex on Pulau Ubin, an island in the northeast of Singapore with a rugged and natural landscape, for years. But to accommodate the influx of Secondary 3 students now mandated by the National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan, a new campus has been developed on a small neighboring island about a kilometer from the Pulau Ubin facilities.

This new USD $185 million campus will expand OBS’ capacity to be able to serve up to 45,000 students in outdoor adventure education experiences each year.

(By way of comparison, Outward Bound USA served approximately 45,000 students in 2019 across 11 regional schools in the USA. Some 155,000 individuals participated in an Outward Bound experience globally in 2018.)

Risk Management for Outdoor Programs Curriculum

The Risk Management for Outdoor Programs course in which Outward Bound Singapore staff participated covers the history of safety thinking, theoretical models of incident causation, and best practices in outdoor and adventure risk management.

The course provides detailed assessment tools for participants to evaluate their own organization against best practice standards. At the end of the training, participants synthesize their knowledge by outlining a Risk Management Plan document (analogous to a Safety Management System document), and develop a Strategic Improvement Plan customized for their workplace that identifies targeted improvement initiatives to enhance safety outcomes at their organization.

Topics covered in the course include risk assessments, risk transfer, insurance considerations, legal principles, and emergency response plans. The curriculum also addresses safety practices regarding equipment, staff, and participants, and standards for managing subcontractor (provider) relationships.

An emphasis is put on addressing dimensions of safety culture, ensuring appropriate documentation, and employing systems thinking and complex socio-technical systems theory in designing effective safety management systems for experiential, wilderness, travel and adventure programs.

Ng Li Ying, Outward Bound Singapore Senior Instructor, after graduating from the course in September, noted its wide applicability for outdoor professionals, commenting about the course: “Great knowledge about risk management. Would definitely be helpful to people working in the outdoors, whichever your role is in the organisation.”

Ng Li Ying atop Xueshan in Taiwan

The textbook covers the entire course curriculum, and goes into additional detail on topics such as change management in outdoor safety, and dimensions of systems-based risk outlined in the Risk Domains model presented in the text.

Risk Management for Outdoor Programs textbook. Credit: Peter Tan

Outward Bound Singapore staff appreciated the breadth and depth of the textbook. Mohammad Zulhilmi Bin Mohammad, Head/Lead Instructor in the OBS Training Department, commented on the book: "Exhaustive and valuable content...highly relevant and beneficial for all outdoor educators."

Zul’s colleague, Senior Instructor Boo Hui Wen, called the text "truly a great addition to the outdoor industry.”

OB Singapore: Building On A Strong Foundation

In addition to being one of the largest outdoor education providers in the world, OB Singapore is also recognized as a global leader in wilderness risk management and outdoor safety.

Viristar’s curriculum identifies 12 “risk domains,” categories where risks reside, and 11 risk management instruments, or tools used to mitigate risks across domains. OBS staff, when evaluating their organization as part of course assignments, consistently demonstrated that their programs thoughtfully address risk in each risk domain, and rigorously apply all relevant risk management instruments in planning and delivering outdoor activities.

During class discussions, OBS also stood out for its relatively conservative safety culture—not just a product of the safety-oriented Singaporean culture and being a government entity and well-funded organization, perhaps, but also a result of strong and consistent leadership on safety from OBS management over many years.

In these ways, OB Singapore served as a role model for course participants coming from other organizations in Singapore and around the world.

Viristar graduate Mohammad Zulhilmi Bin Mohammad, OBS Head/Lead Instructor in the OBS Training Department (left), working with a kayaking group

OBS and Incident Causation Models

OBS uses two principal models for understanding why incidents occur and how they can be prevented: the 5M model, and PEEP.

The 5M model, built on an earlier theoretical model developed at Cornell University, looks at the dimensions of Man (people), Machine, Medium, Mission and Management in analyzing incident causation, and is commonly used in the aviation industry. The model is also used by Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Council under the Ministry of Manpower. (As government employees, OBS staff are closely connected to the Council's models and resources, and have access to its well-developed bizSAFE workplace safety and health programme.)

The PEEP model sees People, Environment, Equipment, and Procedures as items in its classification of incident causation categories. (Some theoreticians add O for Organizations, resulting in PEEPO.)

Both of these systems are relatively easy to understand and apply, especially for individuals (such as outdoor educators) who are not career safety specialists, but instead have risk management as just one of many aspects of their professional duties, and who work in an occupation noted for its relatively high staff turnover rate.

The Risk Domains model used in the Viristar course, which is developed specifically for experiential and adventure programs, builds on these models (and others, such as AcciMap) to provide a more sophisticated and systems-informed model by which to understand incident causation and prevention in outdoor, travel and informal education contexts.

OBS staff now have an even broader palette of theoretical models of incident prevention from which it can draw upon to improve on OB Singapore’s already admirable safety record.

Viristar graduate and OBS Senior Instructor Boo Hui Wen

Moving Forward and Supporting Others

What did OBS staff take away from their Risk Management for Outdoor Programs course?

After working side-by-side on the course with other outdoor and adventure professionals from dozens of countries, participants from OBS may have recognized anew how well-developed their safety systems overall are.

Part of the class also includes conducting a thorough review of the safety practices of one’s organization, and identifying any areas that may merit continued attention.

One topic that course enrollees from OB Singapore identified as worthy of continuing investment is in managing complexity in an organization as large as OBS, with hundreds of employees, a diverse student body, and myriad outdoor activities historically offered across multiple countries. Managing the flow of safety-related information—such as incident analyses, new policies, and emerging safety concerns—was recognized as an area that needs ongoing close attention in a relatively huge and sprawling outdoor program.

And because OBS operates under a plan in which it works with every single child from all public schools across the country, it has a responsibility to put extra attention to how to work effectively with students with disabilities—who might otherwise self-select out of voluntary participation in an Outward Bound course, if they lived in another country.

And like other organizations everywhere, OBS recognizes the importance continuing the vital work of creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

On the Giant’s Ladder. Credit: OB Singapore

A Global Resource for Others

While OBS continues to fine-tune its highly functioning risk management infrastructure, it at the same time continues a decades-long tradition of providing generous support to Outward Bound schools and other organizations across the globe.

For many years, OB Singapore has welcomed staff from other Outward Bound schools, including in Europe and the Americas, to its Pulau Ubin campuses, to draw ideas and inspiration from Singapore’s operations.

The institution has also been deeply generous to emerging Outward Bound schools, providing safety audits, training opportunities, staff exchanges, and guidance as new Outward Bound organizations have begun in places such as Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, and further afield.

(One Viristar course participant, Vladimir “Dado” Mesarić, the founder, former Executive Director, and current President of the Safety Board of Outward Bound Croatia, which began operations in 2006, appreciated OBS for coming to Croatia to provide soft skills facilitation training, for hosting a Program and Safety training course in Singapore which Dado attended, and for welcoming six Croatian instructors to Singapore to participate in a 21-day course at OBS.)

Part of the Outward Bound ethos is providing service to others, and in this, Outward Bound Singapore excels.

Viristar in Singapore and Around the World

As OBS looks to serve ever more participants in its programs in Singapore, Viristar is doing the same. In addition to collaborating with OBS, Viristar has worked with staff from other education institutions in Singapore, including the Tanglin Trust School, Singapore American School, Canadian International School, and United World College of South East Asia.

Viristar has also recently worked with dozens of staff from Outward Bound schools in China, Croatia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei Darussalam. Individuals from 40 countries on six continents have enrolled in Viristar’s Risk Management for Outdoor Programs course, and Viristar continues to see strong growth in both its training and consulting service offerings.

Recent Viristar graduate Sebastian Wong, Campus Health and Safety Specialist at Singapore American School

With Gratitude to Outward Bound Singapore

Viristar is thankful to OBS for the opportunity to collaborate with OBS’s training, safety and operations staff to support quality and safety in outdoor education and experiential adventure programs in Singapore and other parts of the world.

Not only has the year-long engagement provided new resources to OBS, but the robust safety systems that Outward Bound staff generously described to course-mates on Viristar’s Risk Management for Outdoor Programs course have helped transmit OBS’s inspiring safety accomplishments—and a generous spirit of sharing—to outdoor education organizations all across the planet.

We send our heartfelt thanks to Outward Bound Singapore for this year of partnership in safety and quality.

Georgina Tan

OBS Senior Instructor

And we are heartened by hearing from OBS staff how their training experience with Viristar was helpful for them, and may be valuable for others. Georgina Tan, Senior Instructor in the OBS Training Department, described the experience she and her colleagues had in the class: "Great to have attended this course, as we definitely learnt more in depth about Risk Assessment and Risk Management. It would be beneficial for and highly related to any outdoor adventure practitioner!"

Viristar looks forward to future collaborations with Outward Bound Singapore and others, in 2022 and beyond.

Credit: OB Singapore


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