Every year millions of people in Great Britain and Ireland enjoy visits to our countryside, coasts and historic properties. Considering that several billion hours of time are spent on these trips, there are remarkably few serious accidents. In contrast there are many benefits.

Most people say that spending time out of doors is an important part of their life. 62% of UK adults visit the natural environment at least once a week. Over half these visits are to countryside and coastal locations, with the remaining 49% to urban parks.

Time spent on sport, recreation, exploration and learning makes a major contribution to people’s health and wellbeing. The main reason for half the trips out into the natural environment was for exercise and health. For 23% it was to enjoy the scenery (MENE 2018). In addition, overseas tourists make 8.9 million visits a year to Britain’s castles and historic houses – nearly 30% of all overseas visits. (Visit Britain, September 2013).

Although few accidents do occur we want to ensure that we have taken all reasonable steps to avoid them. We also need to be able to demonstrate this is the case if we are faced with a claim or investigation. Deciding what precautions are reasonable to take can be tricky. We need to be careful not to spoil the things that attracted people to visit in the first place.

For some visitors exposure to risk is a key part of their experience. This is obvious for a mountain biker or rock climber. In other cases it may not be so clear cut. Why shouldn’t a visitor to the coast be allowed to choose the exhilaration of walking along a high cliff edge with unguarded drops? Or a visitor to a 13th century castle be able to experience the exhilaration of walking around the original walls and battlements, free from 21st century handrails?

We believe that it is vital to balance such risks and benefits. By following our principles it should be possible to:

  • achieve acceptable levels of safety using risk controls that do not harm the environment or reduce the value to society of our coasts and countryside
  • promote enjoyable access
  • meet our moral and legal obligations
  • use risk control solutions that comply with statutory requirements
  • achieve cost-effective visitor safety management
  • reduce costs, including those from claims.

Reasons why managing visitor safety is important

First and foremost we want our visitors to return home safe, happy and satisfied with their experiences. We have a moral obligation to consider their safety, and protect them from unnecessary or unreasonable risk. We also need to ensure that they do not feel overprotected. We must consider their right to willingly accept the risks that might come with the benefits they are seeking.

We have legal duties to ensure the safety of those we don’t employ but who are affected by our work – our visitors. These duties are explored in more detail in, The Law and visitor safety.

People affected by accidents often look for someone to blame and want to claim compensation. We want to be able to defend unreasonable claims. There is often a clamour for something to be done after an accident. We need to be in a strong position to resist the introduction of inappropriate or excessive safety measures. We can then avoid creating unwelcome precedents and incurring unnecessary costs.

Reputation and Authority
An entirely risk-free environment is not achievable or desirable. However we must be able to demonstrate to the public, regulators and government that we have done all that is reasonably practicable to manage risks down to acceptable levels. If there is a major accident, we are then in a much better position to retain trust.

For most of us, attracting and satisfying visitors form a key part of our business success. We want to optimise the use of our assets. It therefore makes good business sense to create an appropriately safe environment to attract visitors. This helps to create a virtuous circle. Money raised from visitors can be reinvested in conservation, maintenance and improvements. This in turn creates a better environment likely to attract new and repeat visits.

We need to be sure that our marketing material and publications give a balanced view of risk.

In summary…

  • Take account of conservation, heritage, recreation, cultural and landscape objectives.
  • Avoid taking away people’s sense of freedom and adventure.
  • Avoid restrictions on access.
  • Ensure that your visitors know the risks they face.
  • Expect visitors to exercise some responsibility for themselves.
  • Strike a balance between visitor self-reliance and management intervention.
  • Assess risks and develop safety plans for your sites.
  • Take account of the benefits that your site provides.