Teaching Health and Safety: Preparing staff for the unexpected

by Greg Cronin, CCD

Preparing camp counselors for their role as staff members, community leaders, and knowledgeable caregivers is a daunting task. Many staff members are themselves students or adolescents unsure of the aspects of camp wellness, and they bring different beliefs and varied backgrounds to camp. As a camp director or administrator, you must teach them the importance of proper procedures when it comes to safety, OSHA, and dealing with daily camp health issues.

Getting your health and safety message across to camp staff requires that you understand the learner. Young people see themselves as invulnerable. They rest easy with a self-determined sense that they are safe from diseases. You need to recognize this so that your training will accomplish the difficult feat of respecting their personal opinions and self-esteem while translating the correct information in a format that serves to protect and assist campers.

Some staff may already know current OSHA and first-aid standards, but looking at the big picture, how are you going to implement the safety procedures necessary to ensure a healthy summer?

Build Awareness Before Camp Begins

Inform your staff in precamp interviews, information letters, and orientation exercises that health and safety issues are included in the scope of things they need to learn about camp. Establish a format where staff feels comfortable expressing ideas and concerns while simultaneously learning proper procedures experientially.

Introduce camp wellness during interviews
Your task as a director and trainer is to teach all staff to appropriately respond when health issues are present. When you conduct your staff interviews, be sure to speak of health issues as part of your program. Discuss the specifics or realities of the job and make certain to address some areas that are commonly associated with health and safety. Make sure to ask a couple of open-ended hypothetical questions that involve crisis management. Really try and push potential staff members’ "uncomfortable buttons" so you can evaluate their response in a stressful situation. Take the time to record reactions to these questions. The purpose of this is to get a sense of their knowledge and to make them aware that camp wellness is a priority.

Precamp Training

Staff orientation provides the perfect opportunity to teach OSHA requirements in a cooperative atmosphere by using concrete examples that lend themselves to successful safety training. The OSHA portion of precamp training should begin with a written true/false test. This test usually quiets the room as staff members will quickly realize that typical camp medical situations can be more complicated than anticipated. When staff members have had the opportunity to complete the test, review the answers with the group and discuss the questions.

Expand knowledge with role-playing
Follow up with role-playing to expand your staff’s general knowledge in each OSHA safety and health area. Role-playing also thrusts the new and non-assertive counselors into the actual role they will have in a real camp situation, i.e., on the spot, with everyone looking to them as a leader with answers.

To enhance this concept, show a video (e.g., Coastal Video C "A Lesson to Live By") depicting common incidents and their recommended treatment. Also, seek out and incorporate new training material on a regular basis.

Review basic first aid
During role-playing, review basic first aid while outlining your camp-specific medical policies and procedures. The interaction is informative, fun, and it involves everybody. This training is especially effective in getting veteran staff to participate in otherwise familiar subjects. Training in an actual location where a safety/health challenge may occur will also make this drill a reality.

In the first few days of 
camp, [camp staff should] spend
 time actually doing things
 that will cause them to act
 knowledgeably in a crisis situation.

Here is an example of a typical test question to ask the group: "The first thing you do for a bee sting is scratch it with your fingernail — true or false?" Let them all answer at once so that a pattern of participation will be established prior to asking more complicated questions. Give them correct answer (false) and follow up with role play to determine the appropriate procedures and considerations:

  1. Identification of the problem.
  2. Use of disposable gloves from
    a first aid kit.
  3. Determination of the allergy status.
  4. Comforting the child in distress.
  5. Handling other campers while first aid needs are met.
  6. Administering first aid.
  7. Follow up with nurse or health professionals.
  8. Clean up for one’s self.

Teach personal safety and care
To further prepare staff to handle emergencies, significant amounts of time should be spent on personal safety and care. In addition to caring for campers, the staff should be aware of precautionary measures that protect them as caregivers. Be sure to highlight the proper procedures for dealing with bodily secretions, blood-borne pathogens, and biohazardous material.

Minimize Potential Problems

Offering first-aid and CPR classes is good for a general knowledge base, but staff need to have basic first-aid equipment readily available. One way to resolve this problem is to have each staff member carry with them a fanny pack specifically filled with items that they can use on a daily basis for minor and routine care. This creates a uniform system of care for all health-related issues, and staff can deal with each incident promptly with minimal patient embarrassment. The contents of the packs should include: plastic bandages, disposable gloves, a pencil, accident reports, after-bite, antiseptic towelettes, eye drops, etc.

Depending on your health care plan, a follow-up trip to your health care professional may or may not be required. The end result is that both staff and campers have realistic expectations that proper procedures will be followed each time medical issues arise.

Hands-on Training

Because we ask staff to do so many things in the first few days of camp, it is important that they spend time actually doing things that will cause them to act knowledgeably in a crisis situation. Here are a couple of practical examples that will help you to comply with OSHA standards while reducing stress in everyday camp situations.

Practice fire safety
Have staff practice fire safety by locating existing fire extinguishers on a map, which they will draw with a partner. After they are finished, let them operate a real fire extinguisher (empty) by pulling the pin and putting it in position to use in an emergency situation. If you have buildings that require fire drills or evacuation walk-throughs, this is the ideal time to schedule them. Do not forget to go over any other severe weather procedures that affect your program.

Locate dangerous materials
Regulations require specific labeling and handling for potentially dangerous materials. When you address the color coding of chemicals, have the staff give you examples of where you might find them in camp. Be sure the discussion includes pool filter rooms, maintenance storage areas, photography labs, etc. By including these often overlooked
program support areas, you can effectively educate staff on where chemicals are locate and discuss what types of problems might occur in using the chemicals.

Offering first-aid and CPR classes
is good for a general knowledge base, but staff
 need to have basic first-aid equipment readily available.

In-service Training

Safety and wellness education is ongoing and does not end with the conclusion of staff orientation. Make sure that staff training sessions have a prominent place in your summer training schedule. Topics such as food-borne illness, safe food handling, protective clothing, personal chemicals, sexual harassment, understanding the basics of heat stroke, or being able to detect the early signs of child abuse are all issues that staff need to be familiar with.

It is your job to make sure that the emotionally safe atmosphere you are trying so hard to create at camp is supported with some practical, practiced, and predetermined techniques. If you conduct health and safety training in a way that teaches care and concern for all, you can better prepare your staff to meet the challenges of today’s changing times.

Originally published in the 1999 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

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