GENERAL RISK ASSESSMENT FOR WALKS ORGANISED BY
NOTTINGHAM HF RAMBLING CLUB
The Club organises a varied range of walks from modest urban strolls to strenuous hill walks. All walks will have at least some associated risk. The hazards encountered and their consequences will vary from walk to walk. Here the hazards and steps to deal with them are described. On all walks participants must be appropriately dressed, alert to the terrain and surroundings, and concentrate on the walking. It is very easy to suffer an accident if distracted at important occasions.
The Club will provide a competent, experienced leader for the walk. The group should remain together so the leader can see everybody. This is important in poor visibility. If the group size is such that it is not easy to check if everybody is present then one member will be asked to act as back-marker. All groups of 8 and above will use a backmarker, below 8 the decision is at the leader’s discretion. If you want to leave the group for a short while tell the leader/back-marker, do not just disappear.
Walking routes are devised based upon our experience of organising similar walks and the times needed to complete the routes. Hence it is important that walkers are in a party compatible with their abilities. Walkers new to the club are requested to make themselves known to the leaders so we can ensure they undertake an appropriate walk and enjoy the day.
The Club has Public Liability Insurance however this is not Personal Accident Insurance and participants must be aware they walk at their own risk. Each walker is responsible for their own safety and comfort on the walk.
Outdoor walking is a low Covid risk activity provided walkers adhere to the rules. Walkers should maintain social distancing at all times, particular care is needed at stiles, gates and refreshment stops. Please carry hand sanitiser and facemask, and use as appropriate. The club will maintain a record for one month of walkers taking part in group walks in case contact tracing is needed.
CROSS COUNTRY and HILL WALKING
The majority of the Club’s walks fall under this heading. There is no sharp divide between cross country and hill walking. What is important are the features they have in common, e.g. rough paths which can be vague or non-existent in places, stiles will be encountered, little signage and possibly remote. Urban and park walks are generally on well-maintained paths with no stiles, helpful signage, easy road access and good mobile phone reception. Below the hazards are discussed under a number of broad headings. All walks, from the easiest cross country to the most strenuous hill walk, will encounter, to a varying extent, some or all of these hazards.
Terrain – Paths can be uneven, stony or muddy; on the more strenuous hill walks you may cross short sections of scree or boulder fields. You need to concentrate on foot placements to avoid tripping or slipping. The club regularly walks in the White Peak where well-worn limestone is found, this is particularly slippery when wet and caution is needed. Easier cross country walks will include modest ascents/descents on gentler slopes but at the other end of the spectrum strenuous hill walks could include sustained height changes on steep slopes. The higher level hill walks may also require negotiating short rocky steps requiring the use of hands.
Exposure – This hazards means you can fall off the route. Even gentle cross country walks can be hazardous if you walk too close to the edge of the river bank and worn wooden stiles on wet days can be particularly slippery leading to a fall. Walks can traverse hill sides, sometimes with quite steep slopes, and occasionally pass above cliff edges. Obviously walkers need to pay close attention in these circumstances.
Weather and Clothing – British weather is notoriously changeable so walkers need appropriate clothing for the day. Outer shell comprising waterproof and windproof jacket (with hood) plus trousers is essential plus several wicking layers to wear underneath. One spare warm layer over and above what you would normally expect is needed in case the party is delayed. Remember you can be a long way from shelter. Warm hat and gloves for winter, and sunhat and sunscreen for summer. Walkers need to bear in mind that conditions in the sheltered valley can be very different to those encountered on exposed hills. Strong winds give rise to wind chill making it feel a lot colder and wind driven rain is always more penetrating. Leaders need to think carefully about routes if wind speeds above 30 mph are forecast. Firstly walking into a strong head or cross wind is more arduous and secondly there can be associated gusts of 40-50 mph which are sufficient to blow walkers over. This is very dangerous particularly close to steep ground. Leaders also need to be alert to very heavy rain the night before or during a walk, such rain can change an easily crossed hill stream into a difficult to cross raging torrent.
IN BAD WEATHER THE CLUB MAY NEED TO CHANGE THE ROUTES TO SAFER OPTIONS OR COMPLETELY CANCEL THE WALKS. LIKEWISE A LEADER MAY NEED TO ADJUST THE ROUTE PART WAY THROUGH DUE TO THE PREVAILING CONDITIONS OR TIME CONSTRAINTS.
Footwear – As implied above good contact with the ground is essential. Generally walkers are advised to wear 3 season boots with good grip e.g. Vibram soles. Boots need replacing or resoling when the tread, particularly the heels, become worn. Some experienced walkers will use approach/trail/mountain walking shoes but fashion trainers are not suitable.
LEADERS CAN REFUSE TO TAKE WALKERS THEY CONSIDER INAPPROPRIATELY EQUIPPED.
Refreshment – The walks will generally be planned around picnic stops. Hence walkers need to carry sufficient food and liquid for the day. In cold weather a flask with a hot drink is recommended and in hot weather walkers should start the day with a very minimum of one litre of liquid. Keeping hydrated is important.
Navigation – Leaders will carry the relevant maps, compass and possibly GPS. Depending upon the leader’s experience, walk location and terrain all or part of the route may be surveyed.
Livestock – During walks it is possible to encounter farm livestock. Sheep are not a problem. Horses and young cattle will sometimes follow you which can be intimidating but generally not dangerous. Farmers can allow a docile beef bull with his harem in a field crossed by walkers, give the cattle a wide berth so you do not appear threatening and you can safely cross. Dairy bulls are considered dangerous and should not be in a field accessed by walkers. The most likely source of danger is a cow with her young calf. The basic advice is not to get between a mother and calf but often the field will contain several calves and it is difficult to work out which calf goes with which mother. If you have to cross a field in these circumstances the safest technique is to ensure the walking party closes up to form a compact group and then takes a loop around the field to avoid the cattle and particularly the calves. Walkers should not leave the compact group e.g. to photograph a calf! The behaviour of cattle in the presence of a dog is very unpredictable. Dogs are NOT allowed on club walks.
Country Lanes – Walks can make use of country lanes for short distances. Lanes are generally narrow, without pavement and often very little verge for walkers so you will be walking on the road. The Highway Code tells us to walk on the right-hand side of the road to face the oncoming traffic. This works well except when approaching a sharp right-hand bend when you should move to the left side of the lane to widen the viewing angle. All walkers, particularly leaders and backmarkers, should give thought to improving their visibility when road walking. The simplest way is by using a piece of high visibility gear e.g. sash passing over the shoulder and rucksack. Always walk in single file.
Winter Walking – By winter walking we mean walking in the presence of snow and ice. The club will undertake low level winter walks; the snow will generally be soft and no long steep slopes encountered, occasional patches of ice may be found but these can normally be by-passed. The club will not undertake higher level routes where large areas of hard snow and ice on steep slopes can be found. Such walks require crampons and ice-axe, and the training to use them effectively.
Emergencies — Walkers should carry their own first aid kit. If they require any special medication it is essential that this is included in the first aid kit and the kit be easily accessible in their rucksack. They should brief a fellow walker and/or leader about the arrangement. Leaders are not first aid trained. Sometimes another member of the walking party is first aid trained but this not guaranteed. An emergency will result in the party being delayed so the club recommends walkers carry an emergency survival bag, torch, extra warm layer (as previously noted) to put on when stopped plus some high calorie snacks. These extras become especially important when undertaking a remote route. If the incident looks to be serious then emergency services and other leaders should be contacted immediately. In theory mobile phones should make this easy but reception is not guaranteed. Text messages will often get through when a voice call fails so walkers should consider registering their phone for the “Emergency SMS” service which allows walkers to report an incident to 999. The club requires a minimum party size of 3; one to remain with the incapacitated walker and 1 to go for help if the incident cannot be reported by phone. Leaders should make notes, to report to the Club Safety Officer, on any serious incident requiring emergency services or hospital visit. Finally all walkers should carry a card with the name and telephone number of somebody they want contacting in case of an accident; this should be easily accessible in the top pocket of their rucksack.
Rucksack – Walkers require a rucksack to carry the equipment discussed above. A capacity of 20-30 litres is about right. Modern rucksacks have a wide waist-belt to clamp the hip bones (not the waist) so the rucksack weight is taken by the legs and not the shoulders and spine. Anything needing to be kept dry in the rucksack should be placed in a waterproof compression bag or similar – rucksacks are nor waterproof even with a rain cover.
Age – Children can join Club walks only when accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult.
Walking in built-up areas generally means there are well-defined routes such as pavements, under-passes and zebra crossings to separate walkers from traffic. Organised walks should make maximum use of these however other road crossings are likely to be required and all members of the party should be especially alert on such occasions. Leaders should choose crossing points carefully and wait until all walkers are safely across before moving off, this ensures nobody takes any unnecessary risks. The earlier comments on visibility also apply here. Finally watch out for uneven paving stones and kerbs, and cyclists/scooters on the pavement.