Tips from the Trenches: Writing a Comprehensive Risk Management Manual

July 17, 2011

Kathy Rose
Facilities Director
Campus Recreation
University of Kentucky

When our Director decided that the University of Kentucky Campus Recreation Department would participate in the 2008 Risk Management Survey of SEC Schools , I was confident, almost to the point of smugness, that we’d score well. I knew that our Fitness, Aquatics, Intramural, and Outdoor Pursuits Directors all had solid risk management policies in place, and as the Facilities Director, I felt that risk management was one of my strongest areas. Needless to say, pride cometh before a fall, and the results of the survey ranked our department’s risk management plan as one of the lowest scoring among all the participating schools. So immediately following our initial shock, which was accompanied by the usual sulking and gnashing of teeth, we went to work to fix the problems.

One of our biggest deficiencies was the lack of a centralized plan that would drive our risk management policies and procedures within each area. Our initial step towards solving this problem was to form a Risk Management Committee that would oversee the Campus Recreation Department as a whole. The committee’s first daunting task was to write a risk management manual that would be general enough to be relevant to every area within our department, but that would also include specific policies and procedures needed for specialized programs. We assessed our current risk management practices and found that a few new policies needed to be incorporated into each area. But mostly we found ourselves working backwards, taking solid procedures from each area and using them to formulate a general policy. It was like having all the boards, bolts, screws, and knobs for your new TV/DVD entertainment center spread out on your living room floor, and then having to create your own instruction manual in order to put the pieces together.

When writing the manual, we found that terms like “pre-activity checklist” or “waiver” could be used generically when describing general procedures used by all areas, and then specific forms for each facility or event could be included in an Appendix. We also developed templates that could be used to document our department’s general procedures, but that could also be modified to suit a particular facility or program. For example, we worked closely with our university’s Risk Management Department to develop a departmental waiver template that could be modified depending on the activity. We used the UK Emergency Preparedness Department’s Building Emergency Action Plan template and turned it into our own Campus Recreation EAP template that was modified to show each facility’s individual EAP.

We also realized that we needed a practical way to track our student employee certification and safety training requirements. Our department employs over 200 students during the academic year. Each area director hires and trains their own student staff, with skill needs ranging from lifeguarding to group fitness instruction to personal training. We decided to track employee certifications and training using a grid, or “map” . We listed all student employee job titles, and then created two different documents: one listing official certifications that are available, and the other listing emergency procedures that required training. If a job position required a certain certification, we put an “X” in the corresponding box. In the same way, we were able to indicate which emergency training procedures were required for each student job, and how often the training should be conducted. The “mapping” grids made it easy to combine student worker information from all areas into easy-to-read documents.

Our department has come a long way since the fateful Risk Management Survey results of 2008. We have completed the first draft of a comprehensive risk management manual, and in the process we have developed new and improved risk management policies for each area within our department. The use of templates and “mapping” grids have helped us to standardize our procedures within each area, as well as to track our risk management needs concerning student employees. Though our department employs directors who specialize in different areas within Campus Recreation, we are still united in one purpose: to make our programs and facilities as safe as possible for the University of Kentucky community.

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