‘Speaking up for safety’: Evaluating graded assertiveness frameworks to improve students’ capacity to advocate for safety in outdoor education settings

Mr Brendon Munge1, Julie Hanson1, Mr Daniel Wadsworth1, Ms Samantha Walsh1, Ms Tahia Marshall1
1University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Australia


Safety is a universal mandate in outdoor education. How new staff members are socialised into a safety culture focused on ‘speaking up for safety’ is of critical importance. However, communicating safety concerns amongst peers and in particular senior staff about their safety practices can be challenging when it raises questions about their conduct, authority and experience. This barrier to communication can lead to accidents and injuries for participants and staff involved in outdoor education programs. How then, can we encourage outdoor education practitioners to speak up for safety in a way that is heard and acted upon without concerns for offending others?

This presentation draws on recent nursing research that focused on improving the communication skills of students to ‘speak up for safety’ in preparation for their first clinical placement via the use of two graded assertiveness frameworks. The study identified that poor interpersonal relationships and ineffective health care team communication were dominant human factors contributing to clinical errors and adverse events. Nursing students were identified as lacking the skills to advocate for themselves, their patients and others when witnessing unsafe practice. Results revealed that assertiveness training provided an authentic learning experience for nursing students with practical application to the workplace.

Students of outdoor education face similar challenges in speaking up for safety. Two graded assertiveness frameworks were implemented in a first and third-year level undergraduate outdoor education course to improve students’ capacity to speak up when witnessing unsafe practice. The presentation will outline the two frameworks and report on the outcomes of the project to improve students’ capacity to ‘speak up for safety.’

This presentation will be beneficial for employers, teachers and practitioners as it will provide a framework to improve the communication related to safety within outdoor education.

Brendon Munge is an associate lecturer in Outdoor and Environmental Studies in the School of Education at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. His teaching focuses on providing the foundational practical and theoretical experiences for new outdoor educators as they prepare to work in the profession. He is a current PhD candidate with a focus on outdoor fieldwork pedagogy in higher education.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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