Leadership trips face tougher checks on safety

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL safety checks of outdoor activity courses, increasingly popular for management training, are being considered by the English Tourist Board.

The move follows the death of a 46-year-old car sales manager from a heart attack on a corporate course in the Brecon Beacons, Powys. Privately-run courses involving climbing and other potentially dangerous activities such as canoeing and abseiling are used to assess leadership ability and to build team spirit.

Geoffrey Ledgard, a Citroen salesman in Birmingham, died on a four day Army-style hike involving abseiling, map reading and problem-solving with four colleagues. He collapsed as his group climbed along the Craig cwm Cynwyn ridge heading toward the 2,907ft summit in fog.

Geoff Walker, who owns Trig Point, a residential adventure centre near Whitby, North Yorkshire, said: 'Sometimes companies which arrange trips to centres like this feel that if staff don't get involved, they don't climb the promotion ladder.'

The tourist board is to explore setting up a code of conduct and inspections of English activity holiday centres at a meeting next month. But the board fears a national scheme may be hindered by lack of funds.

David Philips, assistant marketing director of the board, said: 'The consensus is that it is time for national monitoring. But if we ran a scheme it would have to be funded by industry participants. It would depend on their support.'

One tourist board inspector, who asked not to be named, admitted: 'There's a lot of rogues out there in the market place. The customers in the management training sector aren't very discerning, they just want to send out middle managers and give them a hard time.'

Activity centre monitoring schemes in England are run on a piecemeal basis by the regional Associations of Residential Providers. Last year the Wales Tourist Board introduced inspections of Welsh centres.

No statistics are held for the number of UK activity centres, the number who attend them, or the accident rates. But Adventure Education, the industry journal, estimates there are 600 in the UK serving one million clients a year.

Chris Loynes, the journal's editor, said six claims for negligence were in the civil courts as a result of accidents on adventure holidays. He added: 'One area of concern is that charities are using such challenges as a way of raising funds. Yet they and the volunteers who do them often have the least understanding of the standards expected.'

The British Activity Holiday Association two years ago began inspecting the 120 private centres in England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man run by its members. But it does not keep figures for accidents and near-misses.

The proposed tourist board scheme would run on similar lines to the association's which monitors premises, the accident log, staff qualifications, health and safety, equipment maintenance and insurance cover. Neither the association nor the tourist boards can enforce safety standards by law. Penalties are restricted to denying accreditation or membership.