Bob Ryan Discusses Adventure Program Safety & Risk Management


Episode 71:  We’re excited to welcome Bob Ryan, an expert in Adventure Program Safety and Risk Management to VPP.  A former colleague, and guest host, Chris Damboise, prompts Bob to share some of his poignant early career memories including Tall Ship sailing in Europe, landing his first teaching position at a high school, and the move from plastic to metal staples.  From his start as a challenge course builder at Project Adventure (PA), Bob is now the Director of Safety and Risk Management at PA (see bio below for more).

Next, the conversation covers the evolution and need for accreditation and certification.  Bob neatly explains how these concepts figure into overall risk management strategies for Adventure Programs.  Afterward, Chris quotes a formal definition of risk management that hits the mark for both.  At some length, they discuss this concept which prompts Chris to ask about Bob’s current job at PA.  In short, Bob explains his diverse range of work that includes safety audits and reviews, third-party inspections, and serving as a resource for clients.

Pay close attention to this next section if you are considering a new challenge course of high and/or low elements.  Without hesitation, Bob puts on his risk management hat and guides the listener through the all-important planning process.  Immediately, he shares some helpful recommendations based on his risk management work in the field.  Of particular note is the distinction between building (what you can see), and the concept of developing a program, which is central to the risk management conversation.  In conclusion, answers to many of your questions are provided as well as good framing on how to balance your risk management strategy.

Jumping back in time, Chris inquires about the emergence of standards partly due to accidents on courses in the 1980s – 90s.  Bob’s early involvement in the formation of ACCT and AEE standards provides a great perspective into the models of certification and accreditation offered by both.  Both are peer review models, but with many similarities and differences.  The industry continues to grow and to use standards for positive change, and Bob provides many examples in his current experiences.

Lastly, Bob offers some ideas around the challenges of COVID from a risk management point of view.  His final advice to newcomers in the field is revealed in the last five minutes of the conversation as well as his favorite reads with an eye toward risk management: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, and The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gwanda, a favorite read of High 5 trainer, Lisa Hunt.

Bob Ryan has worked as a teacher and instructor in a variety of Outdoor/Adventure programs including Outward Bound and in an early Project Adventure program in the public schools. For the past 35 years, he has worked at Project Adventure where he serves as Director of Safety and Risk Management. Bob was involved with the early development of ACCT where he served on the Board of Directors and on numerous committees.  He has also worked as a consultant and expert witness on a number of lawsuits in the Challenge field.   He is the author of “The Guide for Challenge Course Operations” and resides in southern Maine.