Visitor Risk Management and Public Liability - WA Department of Conservation and Land Management 1999


A Report to the ANZECC Working Group on National Park and Protected Area Management
Department of Conservation and Land Management, Western Australia 1999

About this document

A Benchmarking and Best Practice Program was established through the ANZECC Standing Committee on Conservation in 1994, and coordinated by the ANZECC Working Group on National Parks and Protected Areas Management. This Program comprises a series of Best Practice projects which aim to assist in sharing knowledge and information to improve practices and processes for a range of responsibilities undertaken by land management agencies.

Western Australia's Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) has completed the benchmarking process to determine best practice for visitor risk management. This report outlines the steps taken to achieve the present best practice framework of visitor risk management in outdoor environments. It also provides an example of a visitor risk management policy and guidelines which have recently been prepared by the lead agency in this benchmarking review.

Effective visitor risk management practices play an important role in the management of outdoor recreation. Many forms of outdoor recreation have inherent risks associated with them, indeed for many recreational activities risk and challenge are integral components.

Park agencies have an extremely high duty of care and an associated significant and alarming potential for large personal injury claims. Throughout Australia there has been a rapid and dramatic increase in the number of incidents and liability payouts. The reasons for this include:

  • increasing visitation, increasing public mobility and increasing size of the estate managed;
  • increasing potential for claims due to heightened public awareness;
  • increasing prevalence, Australia wide, of claims involving serious injury (eg, quadriplegia and paraplegia) coupled with the substantial initial and continuing costs and expenses involved in funding such cases;
  • claims, even involving serious injuries, may not come to light for several years and may not be settled or litigated for many years after that -an inflationary element is obviously involved;
  • considerable emphasis is placed on the statutory responsibilities of land managers for care, control and management of public lands and there is an increasing trend towards litigation as a whole;
  • ongoing expectation to provide some recreational experiences with elements of challenge and risk and a low level of management control.