Introduction to Practice

This section considers the role of information and education in risk control. We emphasise the need to give visitors the knowledge to adapt their behaviour to suit the environment and the conditions they will experience. This helps to encourage visitors to take more responsibility for their own safety.

The management of safety should be an integral part of your overall system to meet the needs of all your visitors. Clear, well-designed information located sympathetically at strategic locations can help to raise and maintain awareness. There are opportunities at different stages of the process.

Diagram based on Visitor Journey © https://www.live-tourism.co.uk
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This section considers the role of information and education in risk control. We emphasise the need to give visitors the knowledge to adapt their behaviour to suit the environment and the conditions they will experience. This helps to encourage visitors to take more responsibility for their own safety.

The management of safety should be an integral part of your overall system to meet the needs of all your visitors. Clear, well-designed information located sympathetically at strategic locations can help to raise and maintain awareness. There are opportunities at different stages of the process.

Diagram based on Visitor Journey © https://www.live-tourism.co.uk
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Look at the whole journey through the eyes of your visitors and be careful not to make false assumptions about their abilities. Do not assume that it would be unsafe for certain groups to visit. A visit may be more challenging, but the reward is likely to be greater too.

Consider the contrast between ‘extreme’ practitioners and more gentle recreation participants. The age profile of your visitorsmay be relevant.

Older visitors may be more risk averse, but because of their age they may be better equipped to make judgements based on experience about the safety of a site. Conversely, they may be more vulnerable to other risks such as slips, trips and falls. On the other hand, younger visitors are probably much more likely to take risks and less likely to take notice of signs and information; but being fitter and more agile may be less prone to minor slips and trips.

Well-designed safety information should:

  • alert visitors to the nature, location and severity of hazards and risks and provide information about any restrictions
  • explain the nature and extent of risk control measures provided by the owner or manager of the site
  • give visitors information to help them to decide for themselves about the risks to which they are likely to be exposed, and the precautions they should adopt
  • let visitors know what is expected of them, on the understanding that they share some responsibility for their own safety.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes

Understand their journey from the first decision to visit, to the experience itself and the memories they take home.

Each stage of the visitor journey provides an opportunity for you to provide information important to safety and to influence visitor behaviour.

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AIMS

Our aim should not be to disclaim responsibility. Signs and leaflets that state visitors ‘enter at their own risk’ have no validity in civil law.

However, providing safety information that ensures visitors are made aware of hazards should help to prevent accidents. It may also help to demonstrate that you have acted reasonably in the event of a claim against you if an accident does occur.

Good information can help our visitors to develop the skills and confidence to take appropriate responsibility for their own safety.

When you write programmes and guides for visits, activities and events, include information on what you expect from your visitors; for example, level of fitness and experience, what they should wear and what equipment they should carry.

TYPES OF INFORMATION INCLUDE:

  • leaflets, posters, tickets and booklets
  • signs, notices and information boards
  • verbal information
  • web sites, social networking and apps• recorded telephone information lines
  • local press or broadcast media (to publicise, for example, large events or the consequences of unexpected weather or emergency works).

You should identify your partners and work with them to achieve a common information strategy. This could be through meetings with user groups, or by working with governing bodies of sport. It could, for example, be through cooperation between a land owner and a National Park authority.

DIVERSITY AND SOCIAL INCLUSION

Think about the needs of different types of visitor. Ensure that any information you publish is accessible for all.

Consider different:

  • formats
  • sizes
  • letter and number sizes (fonts)
  • languages.
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SURFACE GRADING AND CONDITION

Provide information about the surface and condition of walking, cycling or mountain bike paths, routes or trails. In open country they can be graded to reflect steepness, surface material, exposure to drops and technical difficulty.

In historic properties, you should, in particular, consider the surface condition, steepness, exposure to drops and steps around the main building and other areas attracting most use.

This helps visitors to assess whether they have the abilities to manage the risks on the route and the extent to which they may have to supervise people in their care.

WAYMARKING

Use accurate and properly maintained waymarkers to direct people using your paths and trails. Waymarking should indicate the type and grade of the route and enable a visitor to find a trail from a car park or other start point. It is important to make sure that the way is obvious at junctions with other trails, roads or tracks, and where unofficial paths leave the proper route.

Waymarking should be clear and sufficient to enable visitors to decide on their options. For example, knowing the distance back to the start and on to the end of the route will help them to choose to continue or retrace their steps.

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WHO IS THE AUDIENCE FOR THE INFORMATION?

Consider targeting specific segments like people new to the site, visitors from urban areas, particular age groups or people pursuing specific sports or activities.

HOW IS THE INFORMATION GOING TO REACH THAT AUDIENCE?

Before they come on site –to assist in planning their time and activities.Consider web-based and social media information and leaflets in Tourist Information Centres.

On arrival – consider information in visitor reception areas and car parks.

On site – consider warning signs at particular hazards.

HAVE YOU MET THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE WITH VARYING LEVELS OF SKILL AND ABILITY? HAVE YOU REACHED YOUR INTENDED AUDIENCE?

This is hard to assess without research or survey work, but you may get some idea from uptake of leaflets, or hits on a web page.

HAS THE INFORMATION BEEN EFFECTIVE?

Monitor the behaviour of your visitors to see if you have achieved your objectives. Over the long term, market research and analysis of accident trends will help measure the success of your communication strategy.

IS THE INFORMATION UP-TO-DATE?

Keep the design and content of your information current, fresh and relevant.

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You may need advisory, warning or prohibition signs to tell visitors about things that might have an impact on their visit. However, do not put up signs unless your risk assessment indicates that they are the most appropriate measure for risk control. You may be able to use a better option such as creating a route that avoids the hazard.

When you decide to use signs you must give thought to their content, design, location and maintenance, if they are to be effective.

ADVANTAGES

  • concise means of conveying information
  • simple pictorial information
  • widely understood
  • relatively cheap to produce and install
  • can be used to warn visitors of hazards that are not readily obvious
  • can be used to remind visitors of hazards.

LIMITATIONS

  • prone to damage and deterioration so require ongoing maintenance
  • can be ignored by intended audience
  • can be obscured by a large number of visitors
  • limited effectiveness for children
  • limited value for foreign language speakers
  • limited value for the visually impaired
  • visually intrusive in places of beauty or historical significance.

OTHER POINTS TO NOTE

  • poorly designed or badly positioned signs are not effective
  • signs can be used together with other physical measures, such as fencing, and can explain why access is restricted
  • there is no need to provide warning signs where the hazard is obvious
  • overuse of signs or leaving old signs in place after the hazard has gone undermines their effectiveness
  • the use of signs to disclaim responsibility or liability is not usually appropriate
  • safety advice can often be incorporated into the content of general information panels
  • signs must be regularly inspected and maintained.

SIGN DESIGN

When you are certain that a sign is needed, decide which category is appropriate. There are standard designs and colours for each category. These are prescribed in the UK by the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996. In Ireland, the equivalent legislation is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Although these regulations apply to the safety of employees in work situations, there is great merit in using them, as far as is practicable, for visitor safety signs.

You can use an information board to give a fuller explanation and incorporate other information about, for example, emergency procedures, management strategy, history, conservation or environmental protection.

SIGN LOCATION

Give careful consideration to the position of signs. General warning notices need to be seen on arrival by as many visitors as possible. They are usually located at the main points of access to a property. Signs in car parks are best placed at the point where visitors exit on foot to the place of interest. The choice of locations for signs should also take account of the setting and its landscape significance.

Warn visitors about hazards in time for them to take in and act on the information before being exposed to the risk. is can be particularly important for controlling children.

Sometimes small repeat signs are necessary for hazards that recur along a route.

MONITORING & REVIEW

Observe how people react to signs and notices to ensure that they are in the correct location, understood and acted upon. Even then, you cannot guarantee that all visitors will see signs or take in the information displayed.

Check them regularly for damage and deterioration. Rectify vandalism and graffiti without delay. Experience shows that if left, it encourages further undesirable behaviour. Remove signs as soon as they become out of date.

Signs and leaflets that state visitors ‘enter at their own risk’ have no validity in civil law. You cannot disclaim liability in this way and most visitors will ignore them.

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Be consistent in your use of signs. Otherwise the visitor is likely to be misled. Safety signs fall into four categories – prohibition, mandatory, warning, and emergency escape / first aid.

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You can provide good information and put up warning signs but you still might not get your visitors to behave the way you want. Why is this?

A number of factors are involved; many arising from people’s belief systems. They are well-established in mainstream behavioural psychology; and much-used, for example by advertisers, to influence people’s behaviour.

We are likely to ignore information that conflicts with our core beliefs.

We don’t always act logically even when we think that we are. We often overestimate the extent to which we have control over events.

The Theory of Planned Behaviour diagram shows the interacting factors that influence someone’s final behaviour. Simply providing information rarely works. Increasing knowledge alone does not seem to help change behaviour very much. To be effective you need to understand and influence the attitude, subjective norm and control beliefs.

“People’s behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives.” Thomas Mann Nobel Literature Laureate 1929

Understanding and influencing Visitor Behaviour

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Influencing Mountain Biker Behaviour in Glentress Forest, Scotland

Mandatory signs, such as these on a mountain bike trail, are often ignored. Bikers passing the sign above typically believed work was not actually taking place, or, if it was, they had the skill to avoid any danger.

This sign was developed to appeal to the belief system of the users. Its message is focused on the main concern of the mountain-biker – to be able to complete the trail (rather than stressing danger to personal safety). It provides a credible explanation for the closure, gives the time limits and appears reasonable. It was obeyed by twice as many, compared to the mandatory signs.

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If your organisation has an education strategy, include visitor safety within the wider educational objectives, particularly when preparing guidance for site visits.

Educational opportunities include:

DIRECT WORK WITH SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES

Work with school and community groups that organise educational activities to the countryside. Use the opportunity for local staff to explain the guiding principles and emphasise how visitors have some responsibility for their own safety.

Many organisations have prepared hazard information sheets for schools or teachers to assist them in preparing their own risk assessments prior to the visit.

INPUT TO GUIDED WALKS AND CYCLE TOURS

Take the opportunity to clarify roles and responsibilities for safety with the organiser of the walk or tour. Use them as a means to get safety messages over to the participants.

WORKING WITH USER GROUPS AND PARTNERS

Work with user groups and their representative bodies (such as Mountaineering Ireland, the British Mountaineering Council, British Horse Society) to understand each other’s position, interests and responsibilities. In turn, these groups can help to get safety messages across to their members.

CAMPAIGNS

Participate in national campaigns, such as the water safety initiatives of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency or the RNLI, or in local partnership initiatives, run perhaps by local authorities.

Develop campaigns based on research into the target groups. You need a good understanding of the behavioural factors concerned and the beliefs you want to address. To be successful a campaign may need to train people in new skills and build their confidence.

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Try to integrate your strategy for providing safety information for visitors within the overall strategy for interpretation of the site. Organisations usually provide information to visitors to help them understand and appreciate the landscape, history and significance of the site they have come to visit. Integrating safety information helps to avoid duplication and unnecessary signage. It places safety within the context of the property.

For instance, information on the dangers of unprotected drops could be combined with explanations of how the building, structure or landscape was constructed or adapted.

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Introduction to Practice

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