Bushwalking

Introduction

You must refer to the Requirements for All Sport and Physical Activity to understand your overall compliance responsibilities.

Many schools as part of environmental education, sport or adventure programs engage in bushwalking.

Bushwalking is the activity of walking in the natural environment that may include walks for pleasure, challenge, experience and/or educational outcomes. the term "Bushwalking" can be applied to long (multi day) as well as short (an hour or two) walks in environments as diverse as urban areas, bushland, coastal or alpine regions. All bushwalking activities may be classified in levels.
The levels are

  • Easy - tracked.
  • Intermediate - tracked and easy untracked.
  • Advanced - difficult tracked and untracked.

Many activities, especially with younger students, are of the ‘nature walk’ type of excursion. These are of low demand on participants, use defined tracks and never involve the party being more than one hour away from transport and communication. Such walks are for the duration of a day or part thereof and are referred to in this document as ‘short walks’.

Other activities where school groups would leave the school grounds would usually be referred to as excursions, and would need to comply with the Excursion Policy.

More challenging bushwalks, referred to in this document as ‘extended walks’, can be for one day, overnight or multi-day activities and can involve lightweight camping.

Students

For all bushwalks, parents must be informed of full details of the location, supervision to be provided, activities to be undertaken, degree of difficulty, the contact system, cost and intended departure and return times before their written permission is obtained. The permission note must contain a clause authorising medical aid if it is considered necessary by the supervising teacher. The note should also include a section where the parent advises the school of any illness or medical condition that the student suffers from, or any medication the student is currently taking (including asthma sprays, etc).

Preparation of the alert list and distribution of student medication is the responsibility of the teacher in charge. The alert list must be collated from information on medical consent forms prior to departure. All supervising staff should be provided with the alert list.

All students should wear well-made sandshoes, walking shoes or joggers with non-slip soles. These must be closed toe shoes. Participants must be appropriately dressed for the conditions to be encountered and the activity to be undertaken. Students/staff should be briefed as to the benefits of "layering".
For extended walks

  • A waterproof rain jacket with a hood is essential.
  • For overnight hikes, all members should carry a change of clothes and additional socks in a waterproof bag.

and must be briefed in

  • Use of camping equipment.
  • Food preparation.
  • Personal hygiene in the bush.
  • Navigating and route planning.
  • Safety practices.
  • First aid.
  • Camp craft.
  • Care of the environment.
  • Group skills.

Basic knowledge can be developed beforehand and practical demonstrations provided in the field.

Students are to be instructed to use adequate sun protection, e.g. an SPF50+, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen reapplied regularly and an appropriate hat.

Supervision

The instructor/teacher in charge or the instructor must be an experienced bushwalker with current knowledge of the proposed route including the grading of the walk. This can be confirmed by contacting the relevant local bushwalking club or the local district office of The National Parks and Wildlife Service to establish the difficulty of the terrain, condition of the tracks, etc. Avoid extreme weather conditions, including hot, cold and wet. It is incumbent on the teacher to check the weather forecast to determine that conditions are acceptable for the duration of the bushwalk and to comply with any regulations involving fire bans. Judgements regarding the conducting of the walk should be made accordingly.

For short walks, the instructor/teacher in charge must have experience in supervising students in the specific environment.

For extended walks, the instructor and/or teacher in charge must have proven experience in the type of terrain to be covered including experience in camping, proficiency in the use of map and compass, and knowledge of search, rescue and emergency procedures. Teachers and instructors must be able to verify their experience (e.g. by logbook or testimonial).

For all bushwalking activities, the teacher-in-charge must produce a documented risk assessment of the activity prior to the activity being approved by the principal. This assessment will identify major risks and hazards and make judgements as to the likely occurrence of difficulties, their severity and consequences. It will indicate any actions that are being taken to minimise or reduce risks and hazards.

Where an adult other than a teacher accompanies the group to provide instruction or to assist with supervision, a teacher must still take overall responsibility and assume duty of care for students. Decisions regarding the appropriateness and/or continuance of an activity should be made in consultation with the applicable personnel. These may include;

  • The instructor.
  • Land manager.
  • National Parks & Wildlife Services Personnel.

For all bushwalks, a minimum of two adult supervisors must accompany students. Where male and female students participate, the principal should attempt to have both a male and female adult accompany the group.

On overnight walks, supervisory and accommodation arrangements are to be such that no staff member is placed in a position where there is potential for allegations of improper conduct to be made. In particular, sleeping arrangements should not place any adults in a situation where the propriety of their behaviour could be questioned. Likewise, sleeping and supervisory arrangements are to ensure that no student is placed in a situation where there is the likelihood of sexual contact between students.

Dependent on the participant's age, fitness, experience, maturity, the terrain distance from advanced medical support and the experience of the adult supervisors, the adult supervisor top student ratio should be as follows:

Student Experience                            

Bushwalk Level                                                 

Adult: Student Ratio                

Novice

Easy Tracked

1:15

Intermediate

Tracked and Easy Untracked         

1:12

Advanced

Untracked

1:6

Parties should not be split except in emergency situations or when teaching of a particular skill requires it. Walking pace should be restricted to that of the slowest member of the party. A leader should be with students at the front of the party, whilst a strong walker should remain at the rear of large parties to provide supervision and support for slower walkers. The leader must make regular checks on group numbers and ensure contact between all supervising adults is maintained.

Students should be briefed beforehand on nature conservation issues and the need to protect all flora and fauna, minimal impact on the environment and principle of "Leave No Trace". In addition, prior to commencement of any extended walk, students must be briefed on the actions to be followed in the event of bushfire, flood, storm and lightning and serious injury to a walker.

In the case of some programs (e.g. the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award - Adventurous Journey), certain activities are undertaken by secondary students which will confirm their competence to satisfy advanced awards. Expeditions undertaken to achieve these awards will require students to complete aspects with considerable independence. Teachers oversighting these activities will encourage the students to develop self reliance without jeopardising their safety. The organisation’s guidelines must be implemented. Supervising teachers are to ensure that regular three way/confirmed contact is made with the students. As well, students should be able to contact the supervising teacher as needed.

Equipment

On extended walks, sufficient maps (either topographical or an accurate sketch map), route plans, whistles and compasses for each member of the group should be provided. Students must know how to effectively use these items. For short walks, leaders should consider the value of these items but may provide them to be shared within a larger group of students.

A mobile phone, with a spare battery, to be used in emergency situations is desirable on all walks but leaders should allow for the fact they may not operate in all locales. In more remote bush areas, other forms of communication such as UHF radios or satellite phones, EPIRBS (emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and PLB's (personal Locator Beacons) should be considered.

A well-equipped medical kit must be readily available. For larger parties or extended walks two kits should be carried.

Plus the following items:

  • Comfortable, well-fitting backpack.
  • Warm sleeping bag appropriate for the conditions and sleeping mat.
  • Suitable hiking tent with sewn-in floor or waterproof ground sheet.
  • Fire starting equipment, cooking and eating utensils.
  • Food, including supplementary energy foods for emergencies.
  • Water - at least two litres per person per day.
  • A stove with fuel (in some areas).
  • Waterproof pack liner (e.g. a strong garbage bag).
  • Mirror (to use for signalling if lost).
  • Torch with spare batteries and globe.
  • Plastic bag for carrying rubbish.
  • A shovel/spade for burying faeces.
  • Additional clothing should be considered - gloves, socks, beanie ('layering' should be emphasised).
  • Toiletries bag.

The teacher in charge must ensure that the following matters relating to packs are adhered to:

  • The loaded pack is not to exceed 1/4 of the body weight of the hiker; also to be considered is the hiker’s level of experience and fitness.
  • If necessary, equipment is to be shared amongst the group to ensure this limit is observed.
  • The pack is to be correctly fitted to suit the student’s body structure.
  • As part of the program of instruction prior to the hike, students are to be instructed how to organise belongings in the pack so it does not affect the hiker’s centre of gravity and comfort.

It is the responsibility of the teacher in charge in consultation with the instructor to ensure that all students are adequately equipped and that all equipment is in good order prior to departure. If at the time of departure a student does not have an item of equipment or it is not in satisfactory order, the teacher in charge must decide whether the student can further participate on the basis of whether there is a safety issue.

Venues

Locations should be selected from national parks, state forests, state recreation areas, Crown lands and private property. In all cases, the appropriate prior permission must be obtained. Check with the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office, police or other local authorities about current walking restrictions, fire bans, etc.

The instructor/teacher in charge must have current knowledge of the area to be used and be certain of its suitability for the program and the group. Selection of venues must take into account:

  • The age, fitness and medical conditions of students.
  • Known hazards, such as river crossings, slippery rocks, cliff faces, exposed areas and limited access to roads and communication.
  • The group’s impact on the environment and on other campers. For any location, current bush fire or flood risks should be assessed immediately prior to the commencement of any walk. Avoid commencing a walk on a total fire ban day.

Safety

Trips need to be well planned. Students must be thoroughly briefed in regards to all aspects of the 'walk' especially safety issues. The group leaders should carry a card detailing procedures to follow in emergencies and contact numbers. All party members should know how to put these procedures into practice.

The range of activities undertaken in outdoor recreation pursuits is extensive. Principals need to ensure that participating staff have levels of first aid training appropriate to the proposed activity, location and any student disabilities, and that adequate and appropriate first aid kit(s) are available on the activity.

All accompanying teachers must have recognised current training in emergency care, such as the St John Ambulance Emergency Care Module or the Senior First Aid Course. For groups involved in overnight stays, at least one accompanying teacher must also possess recognised current training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

Leaders Wilderness First Aid (or similar) where medical aid may take several hours or longer to reach a casualty is highly desirable for extended walks in remote areas.

For extended walks, all participants should have completed basic first aid training including treatment for cuts, sprains and snake bite, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and thermo regulation.

For all walks, trip details (including numbers and names of the party) should be given to a responsible adult who should be told to contact the principal as well as the police if the party has not returned, or a message has not been received, five (5) hours after the party is due. In the case of an afternoon or similar short outing, a two (2) hour follow-up is generally appropriate.

Water in streams running from urban areas should not be drunk. Water from other areas, including national parks, should be treated (e.g. with iodine tablets or Puritabs). Students should carry personal food and water.

Parties of inexperienced students should remain (except when under direct instruction and supervision) on recognised walking tracks.

Special Features

Teachers planning bushwalking activities need to ensure that all aspects of the activity comply with the department's Excursion Policy. A comprehensive risk assessment must be completed prior to the activity being conducted. Where camping overnight is required, leaders/teachers must have previous experience in managing students in a camping environment. A leader must have knowledge and skills in selecting an appropriate camp site and ensuring safe practice in the use of fires and stoves.

Tick Bites

Anyone walking, or working, in bush is at risk of tick bites in coastal regions along the entire eastern edge of Australia where the paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, can be found. Although most tick bites cause nothing more than a local irritation at the site of the bite, many people experience an allergic reaction to toxins and other substances that ticks inject into the skin.

The paralysis tick is responsible for transmitting two human diseases in Australia: Australian spotted fever and a disease resembling that of Lyme disease or borreliosis. Both infections occur regularly in urban populations near the coast.

Reducing the incidence and severity of tick-borne diseases is dependent upon the adoption of protective behaviour to prevent tick bites from occurring, removing ticks promptly and correctly to avoid the tick injecting more toxins and bacteria and early presentation to a general practitioner with symptoms associated with a tick bite.

If early diagnosis is made tick-borne diseases can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Delay can result in chronic illness, fatigue and other medical problems.

Tips for Prevention

  1. Be aware that in bush areas, ticks may attach to your clothing or body as you brush past bushes or overhanging branches.
  2. When outdoors, dress appropriately to avoid tick bites. Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked into socks. Light coloured clothes are better as it is easier to see ticks crawling.
  3. When outdoors use an insect repellent containing DEET (diethytoluamide), but be careful when applying to children. Spraying your hats and clothes as well will increase protection (ask your doctor or chemist for further advice).
  4. Brush off clothing and thoroughly check pets before entering the house.
  5. Tick bites are often painless and go unnoticed. It is important that students and staff undertake a TICK CHECK after being outdoors and paying particular attention to behind the ears, scalp, groin, armpits and back of knees.