How to Handle an Incident


How your guests react to an incident at your park depends greatly on how you educate them during your safety briefing and on the course itself, as well as how you treat them after they have experienced an incident. If you handle your customers with all the care and respect you can, that will often minimize your public relations and financial hit.

Beyond that, of course, it’s important to document the details of any incident. This is useful in case a participant brings a lawsuit, and to help you spot any patterns that suggest a need to adjust your practices and/or training.

Industry Incident Trends

At zip line courses in 2016, we continue to see that most incidents involve impact with a tree or a platform. These claims typically result in broken ankles/legs or head injuries. The cost of these claims can be significant, especially if they are not handled properly.

Most of the incidents that have occurred at aerial ropes courses in 2016 involve dislocated shoulders and twisted ankles. On average, these claims are less severe than the injuries on zip line courses, because the speed guests travel through aerial parks is significantly slower than a traditional zip line.

Even though these incidents are typically less severe, they should be treated with an equal sense of urgency. It is often the small incidents that aren’t properly documented and managed that come back to bite you.

Everyday Actions

Educate your participants. Your participants should never think that your activity or experience is completely risk-free. There is inherent risk in this industry, and your participants should be aware of this prior to setting out on your course. During ground school, and prior to leaving the first platform, make sure your participants understand that this is an inherently risky activity. Your guides should repeat this message while on the course or tour, also.

There are certain unique and consistent tendencies that happen on your course and with your equipment. Educate your participants about these tendencies so they are prepared for them. For example, if you have a QuickStop braking system that causes the participants’ legs to fly upward toward the trolley after impact (especially for larger participants), point this out ahead of time so they know what to expect.

Manage expectations. By educating participants ahead of time on inherent risks and pointing out unique tendencies of your course, you are managing their expectations. As a result, you can completely change their response and actions following an incident, from “Holy cow, this is unsafe!” to, “Oh yeah, I remember you said something like this could happen.”

Emergency evacuation plans. Some incidents are serious enough to require a speedy response. Therefore, plan and rehearse your emergency evacuation plan. The last thing you want is for your guides to be unprepared in the event of an emergency.

Post-Incident Actions

First priority. Please remember, the most important action is to provide prompt and immediate medical attention to the injured participant. This is by far the most critical step.

Sunset rule. Make it a priority to always report injuries to your insurer before sunset on the day of the incident.

Incident reports. Beyond the medical and evacuation response, and reporting to your insurer, prepare a detailed written report of what happened. This should be completed, and a copy sent to your insurance company, within 24 hours. Include photos and diagrams of the incident or site if possible. If the incident involves a potentially costly injury or loss of property, it’s wise to call your insurer and discuss what happened so they are well informed. Your insurance company does not penalize you for reporting incidents!

Write it all down. In addition to describing the details of the incident in your report, make sure that you include anything the participant says. Some things that the injured participant says can be very important. For example, if he says, “I can’t believe I injured my knee again. I thought it was better from my last injury,” this is relevant and should be documented. It shows there is a reoccurring injury that did not originally come from the activity on your course.

Who’s paying for this? If the participant asks about your insurance, more specifically whether it will pay for the injury or cover his health insurance deductible, it is best to be non-committal. You might say, “I am not sure how this process works, but I can look into it.” Never voluntarily say that your insurance company will pay for the medical costs, health insurance deductibles, etc.

Follow-Up Actions

Hospitality. Often, it’s how people are treated after an incident—and not because of the injury itself—that determines whether or not they file a lawsuit. So there’s no harm, and potentially a lot of good, if you go over the top to show them how much you care.

Stay in touch. It’s important to follow up with a guest after he or she has been involved in an incident at your facility. By showing concern for your guests’ well being, you make a suit less likely. Plus, it’s valuable PR for your company.

In general, three to seven days after the incident you should call the injured participant and ask how he or she is doing. If the guest went to seek medical attention after leaving your facility, inquire about the status of this medical visit, including any results that were found. Record all this information in your accident report. Do not admit negligence or accept responsibility at any time during the process, but be sure to express your condolences for the person’s injuries.

We recommend sending the injured participant a small gift basket or flower arrangement with a personal note wishing a speedy recovery. You could even include some complimentary tickets, if appropriate, so the guest can come enjoy your experience again and build more positive memories after he or she is feeling better.

Digest the incident. Review the incident in your staff meetings. Is it part of a pattern of incidents? Was there something that could have prevented it from happening? Talk about what happened, and explore things that could be done differently going forward.


About Author

Cameron Annas, CIC, CRM, CWCA, is vice president of business development at Granite Insurance and leads the company’s Adventure Sport team. He focuses on providing risk management and insurance solutions to zip line, aerial adventure parks, and other adventure facilities throughout the United States. Contact him at [email protected], (828) 234-9305.

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