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Safety and Welfare Organising and Planning Duty to Care Guide Duty to Care

A Guide to Safe to Practice

One of six guides to support you on your Duty to Care journey. Learn how to apply the principles from the safe to practice pillar

Each guide in this series introduces the pillar that the guide covers, explaining the importance to participants, coaches, and coaching practice through key messages, practical tips, videos, downloads, and templates. Take the next step and consider how you can apply the principles from the safe to practice pillar to improve your coaching and your participants’ experiences.

In this guide:

  • Coach responsibilities. Consider the areas of focus to keep you and your participants protected.
  • Safe practices. Understand that the elements around your coaching activity are critical to creating a safe environment.
  • Creating safe spaces. Understand the actions you should take as a coach to ensure the areas and equipment you're using are safe.
  • Safe activity. Consider how to make your sessions safe for your participants and for you as a coach.
  • Safe activity: people. Explore what makes your session safe for your participants and for you as a coach.
  • Key legislation. Understand the legislation that applies to you in your coaching practice.

The definition of safe to practice

Safe is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: ‘not exposed to danger; not liable to be harmed or lost; secure’. Safety, in all your professional practices, is fundamental to protecting you as a coach and critically, your participants. From creating safe activities in safe spaces to ensuring risk is addressed effectively and safe practice is embedded in your coaching culture, safe to practice will help you understand and embed safety as a principle in all you deliver.

Why is understanding safe to practice important in coaching?

In many physical activities and sports, danger and risk are a natural part of the activity being undertaken. A fundamental part of your role as a coach is to keep participants safe from harm: this includes creating safe spaces and supplying equipment, and ensuring activities are planned with safety at the heart of them. 

Safety in coaching is critical to ensuring that participants can enjoy and benefit from the activity you provide whilst being confident their safety is a priority. This guide will help you to navigate the different safety considerations you should be making and help you to create practical plans to embed safety in your daily activities.

There are many elements associated with safety. Understanding your responsibilities and the actions you should take to protect yourself as a coach will build your knowledge and confidence to deliver great sessions in safe environments, ensuring your participants will thrive and grow.

Safety is a fundamental principle that should be applied to everything you plan and deliver. Safe coaching is great coaching.

Coach Responsibilities

Coaching brings with it several responsibilities, some of which are legal, some of which are ethical, and some of which are cultural.

You can be perceived by your participants to be a role model, with your behaviour, attitudes and actions providing an example to others.

Understanding your responsibilities and embedding them into your practices will help to ensure your coaching practice is safe and effective, giving everyone the opportunity to be the best they can be.

Every participant has a right to enjoy sporting activity and maximise the physical and emotional benefits and life skills that participation brings. Physical activity and sport should enrich the life of the participant.

Being a custodian of delivery, you have a duty of care to safeguard and protect children, young people and adults at risk whilst they are in your care.

You have a responsibility for the safeguarding of your participants, including:

  • understanding how to identify any concerns involving children or adults at risk
  • having effective safeguarding policies and procedures in place
  • understanding how to report concerns to the appropriate authorities
  • creating a safe environment where participants can take part free from the risk of harm
  • maintaining a ‘reasonable standard of care’ for your participants, including providing a safe environment (assessing risk), appropriate instruction and supervision, suitable first aid provision, and following safe recruitment processes.

The Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) identifies two elements of the Duty of Care:

1) Moral Duty of Care

This relates to the responsibility for the safety and welfare of your participants, irrespective of their age and activity. This means you should only be delivering activities for which you are:

  • suitable trained
  • suitably qualified
  • appropriately knowledgeable to be able to create and maintain a safe environment.

2) Legal Duty of Care

The legal duty of care is much more specific and relates to the legal requirements you should be meeting. Examples:

  • Health and Safety legislation.
  • Safe recruitment practices including the use of disclosure and barring checks (DBS).
  • Fire safety regulations.
  • Provision of first aid at work requirements.
  • Safe supervision regulations.

'Duty of care' is a legal principle which describes a legal obligation to act reasonably to ensure that others are not exposed to unreasonable risk of harm due to your acts and or omissions.

In the context of coaching, duty of care is the coach's responsibility to take reasonable steps to manage the risk of harm to participants. If that responsibility is not met, a coach could be legally liable for a breach of duty of care. As a coach, taking reasonable steps to ensure the reasonable safety of all participants is the best way to protect yourself against claims of negligence.

By 'reasonable', it is meant that you must adopt objectively reasonable coaching practice, and not go above and beyond in your assigned role, so that reasonable care and skill is displayed when coaching. This may look different from sport to sport or depending on the level of sport you are coaching. However, there are some fundamental duties and responsibilities that pertain to all coaches, no matter the context.

Duty of Care in practice

In practice, taking reasonable steps to ensure reasonable safety can be broken down into three generalised steps:

  1. Assessing the risk beforehand.
  2. Providing proper training and supervision during sporting activities.
  3. Ensuring access to medical care is available in case of an accident.

1) Assessing the risk beforehand

Before a physical or sporting activity even begins, there are certain responsibilities that you as a coach have to discharge. This may include:

  • performing safety checks of a facility before delivering a session or event
  • assessing whether any of the participants have existing injuries that the coach needs to be aware of
  • when planning activities, ensuring that the skill level of participants match the skill level of the activities you will ask them to perform
  • advising participants to wear correct clothing and protective equipment. Make sure they know how to use protective equipment properly, especially in higher risk situations
  • ensure that participants are aware of the risks involved in the activities.

Depending on the physical activity or sport and level of play, the risks, and subsequently your responsibilities, may differ. As a coach, participants rely on your expertise of the physical activity or sport and place a level of trust in you to ensure their reasonable safety. While the law does not demand that you entirely eliminate all accidents during physical or sporting activities, you are required to assess the risks involved and take reasonable steps to manage these risks.

Be aware that depending on the NGB or sports organisation you are a part of, you may be required to have logs of environment safety checks or weather checks, etc.

Familiarise yourself with the policies and common practices relevant to your physical activity or sport and, in particular, the level at which you are coaching.

2) Providing proper training and supervision

During physical and sporting activity, it is imperative to provide sufficient supervision and ensure that you are correctly training your participants. This may include:

  • following your NGB, sports organisations, and environments guidance for coach-to-participant ratios, or any other relevant policies
  • demonstrating and/or teaching proper use of equipment. Not allowing the use of equipment for purposes other than what it is intended for
  • matching the level of skill of participants with the activities expected of them. While you want to train them to do their best, make sure not to put them at unreasonable risk by advising them to do something outside their skill set or abilities
  • ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment and clothing is worn
  • ensuring an appropriate number of participants use the equipment at any one time
  • supervising the use of equipment when necessary. Do not let participants use equipment unless they have had proper training
  • preventing participants from participating in unreasonably dangerous activities
  • ensuring participants are aware of the risks involved in participating in the activities.

If you feel the activity is no longer safe, stop it.

3) Ensuring access to medical care is available in case of an incident.

In case of an incident, it is necessary that you have an emergency action plan (EAP) in place. This may include:

  • making sure all relevant staff are trained in the necessary medical and emergency procedures
  • make sure first aid is readily available in case of injury
  • if appropriate, train participants and staff about the dangers of concussions, and how to recognise if someone might have one
  • make sure you follow your organisation’s health and safety policy to prioritise the health of the participants. Do not allow participants to return to play before they have fully recovered from injury.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and you have an ultimate responsibility to protect participants in your care from all forms of abuse.

Abuse can have significant and long-term effects on the victims. The nature of coaching means you’re well-placed to recognise signs of abuse, so it is critical that you understand your responsibilities relating to safeguarding and reporting any concerns of abuse.

Your responsibilities as a coach

Your organisation should always have a Safeguarding Policy, which should lay out the organisation’s response to safeguarding, as well as the reporting procedures. You must know what the policy outlines and how you should respond to suspected abuse.

If you think a participant may be being abused, you have a duty to report it. You may have Safeguarding Leads in your organisation, and they should be involved in the process. If you don’t, then the reporting should be completed by you.

It’s natural to feel fearful of reporting it if you aren’t sure in case you are wrong or you don’t want to get people into trouble. The reality is, if abuse is occurring and you don’t report your concerns, that participant will continue to be abused. Reporting a concern will help to make sure that participants are safe and getting the support they need.

Remember

If you think a participant is in immediate danger, or they disclose that they are in immediate danger, you should call 999 and report it directly to the police.

Coaches are in a position of trust and, as such, it is vital that you maintain a professional relationship and appropriate boundaries between yourself and those that you coach.

The coach-athlete relationship is built on trust and respect and often involves lots of time spent together and so it is understandable for some participants to misread the relationship to be one of friendship rather than a professional relationship.

Whether you are working with children, young people, or adults, creating and maintaining professional boundaries will help to protect you as a coach and protect those that you coach.

Coach Story

Joe has recently started to coach football at an afterschool football club for 8 to 12-year-olds called ‘Football Fun’. Joe also has a public Instagram account displaying pictures of him and his family and the occasional picture of him drinking with his friends at the local pub. One day, Joe receives a follow and a private direct message on Instagram from one of the participants he coaches. The child’s name is Mark. Mark’s message to Joe reads, ‘Hi Joe, football club was really fun on Thursday, I had the worst day at school and been given loads of homework’

Reflect

After receiving his message and follow, what would be the correct step for Joe (coach) to take?

 

Whether you are working with children, young people, or adults, creating and maintaining professional boundaries will help to protect you as a coach and protect those that you coach.

Maintaining professional boundaries

  • Define and communicate expectations: Establish clear expectations with participants (and their parents or carers) at the outset about boundaries relating to appropriate behaviour, communication channels, and interactions outside of the coaching environment.
  • Avoid multiple relationships: Avoid engaging in relationships where you have multiple roles with participants, such as coach and friend or coach and family member, as these relationships can blur boundaries and compromise objectivity and remaining neutral.
  • Use appropriate communication channels: Use appropriate communication channels for professional interactions with participants (and their parents or carers). Avoid private or personal communication channels, such as personal phone numbers or social media profiles. Ensuring that you have dedicated means of communication for your participants such as team emails, group chats, or official team social media accounts that keep contacts from your private and professional lives separate will ensure you maintain professional boundaries.
  • Maintain professionalism: Be careful with how conduct yourself outside of coaching, so it does not affect how your participants view you. Always maintain professional conduct when interacting with participants (and their parents or carers). Avoid engaging in inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour, language, or actions.
  • Act on compromises to your professional boundaries: If you encounter any situations that may compromise professional boundaries, it's important to address them immediately and seek guidance from your NGB, sports organisation or employer.

Coaching is a business that requires formal learning as well as non-formal development. Coaching qualifications are no different from any other professional qualification.

Participants have a right to be coached by people who have gained professional qualifications and have given the necessary time and commitment to developing their knowledge, skills, safe practices, and technical understanding.

As well as technical content, undertaking the learning process in coaching qualifications helps to develop your understanding of holistic development, as well as soft skills and interpersonal skills that are critical to coaching success with participants. Professional qualifications are a central element of safe practice.

Remember

You are responsible for keeping your coaching qualifications up to date.

It is important that your qualification is in the physical activity or sport you are coaching. Check with your NGB, sports organisation, or employer that your qualification is suitable for the work you are undertaking before beginning your coaching.

If you hold any non-regulated qualification, you should check with your NGB or sports organisation to find out which qualification or award enables you to lead a session.

The appropriate qualification may change depending on the environment you are working in.

If you're coaching without the appropriate level of qualification, in the event of an incident, you may not be insured.

If you feel any coaching is beyond the scope of what you are qualified for, you should refrain from undertaking the coaching before certain you are qualified to do so.

Safe Practices

Embedding safe practices into your everyday delivery is critical to protect you and the participants you are coaching. A key part of this will be creating and utilising an appropriate set of policies and procedures.

A good and comprehensive framework of policy and procedure gives you a clear pathway to travel. It takes the guesswork away and creates much more clarity with your participants (and their parents or carers) for how you work, how the process works, and what they can reasonably expect from you as a coach.

Whether you are an individual coach, part of a coaching team, or a coach deployer, safe policies and procedures should support all that you do.

Policy or procedure?

Policies define the key standards and rules of what you do, defining the big picture. They are the WHAT. They will be broad and general, should govern decision-making, and should only change when necessary.

Procedures are the HOW. They are more focused and detail the steps you will follow for a task or action and should change and improve continuously. Procedures should underpin the policies and help bring them to life.

Key policies and procedures

There are several policies and procedures that will help you to protect yourself, your participants, and those you deal with in delivering your coaching.

At a minimum, you should have the following policies and procedures:

  • Safeguarding and Protecting Children and or Adults at Risk Policy and Procedures.
  • Health and Safety Policy.
  • Normal Operating Procedures.
  • Emergency Operating Procedures.
  • Standards of Conduct.
  • Safe Recruitment Policy.
  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
  • GDPR and Data Protection Policy.

Other policies that you may consider:

  • Social Media Policy.
  • Clothing, kit, and jewellery policy.
  • Photography Policy.
  • Complaints Policy.

All policies and procedures should:

  • include the aim and how they will be monitored and reviewed.
  • be set out in such a way that makes it clear to everyone what is expected of them to comply
  • be transparent and accessible to all who need to and wish to view them.

Remember

National Governing Bodies and sports organisations will have their own policies and procedures that will be specific to the physical activity or sport and their in-depth knowledge of legislation and best practice.

Your policies and procedures should reflect theirs and adhere to the same guidelines and principles.

Normal Operating Procedures (NOPs), sometimes also known as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a set of written instructions that describes the step-by-step process that should be followed to perform an activity properly.

NOPs can and should be followed on every occasion to ensure activities are carried out in the same way, to the same degree, and consistently, no matter who is responsible for that activity at that time.

In the physical activity and sport environment, there are several NOPs that would be applicable, including:

  • setting up your activity space
  • completing daily safety checklists
  • setting up and dismantling equipment safely
  • storing equipment safely
  • taking and storing attendance records
  • arrival and safe dispersal of participants
  • locking up the activity space after a session
  • accident and injury reporting.

There are many more that may be appropriate to your environment and activity delivery.

A Normal Operating Procedure (NOP) is a prescriptive set of steps that explain a standard repeatable process to ensure the job is carried out effectively and consistently.

An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is effectively a NOP for an emergency situation.

Within physical activity and sport environments, it’s important to prepare for emergencies. You should have a set of EAPs for emergencies that could reasonably occur within your organisation and within the sessions you deliver. These will vary depending on the activity, the age of the participants, and the space you deliver in.

Assessing emergencies

The first step is to make an assessment of the emergencies that could reasonably occur. ‘Reasonably’ occur means that they are events that could foreseeably happen in what you do and where you do it.

When you are making this assessment, be realistic and be mindful that EAPs will depend on what you do, where you do it, and how you do it.

Emergencies that may reasonably occur may include:

  • evacuation, including fire and power outage
  • injury including concussion
  • cardiac arrest
  • mechanical equipment failure
  • a fall from height.

Your EAP assessment is an important step in planning for the right things. EAPs clearly define how to get it right the first time, every time.

Having a clear EAP that all coaches know and can follow creates clarity and simplicity, enabling you to focus on the emergency, removing the element of thinking because it is a clearly laid out set of steps designed for the exact occurrence.

In your coaching role, clarity is everything. It underpins your delivery, creates great experiences for participants, and ensures safety during the activity. It helps to define the culture of your activity, what it really feels like to be a part of what you do, and how you do it.

Outside of the activity itself, there will be several parties that all have a supporting role in the overall experience for the participant: parents or carers, other participants, other coaches, and officials.

There is no doubt that the participant should enjoy the activity and it should be a positive experience that is free from fear, free from harm, free from discrimination, and, where possible, free from risk.

A critical part of this is setting standards for acceptable behaviour. Having clear and transparent expectations of how everyone should behave is a key part of supporting that positive experience. It will help to promote general safety and well-being for everyone as well as help to manage any poor behaviour.

It is difficult for people to align with your expectations if you aren’t clear on what they are, and vice versa for what people should expect of you.

You can establish clarity for everyone by creating Codes of Conduct for the different groups involved in your coaching, including:

  • participants
  • coaches
  • parents or carers
  • visitors and spectators
  • organisation management
  • officials (e.g., referees, judges, event staff).

Creating your Codes of Conduct

A Code of Conduct should include clear and concise information relating to things like:

  • general positive behaviour expectations
  • safeguarding
  • expected personal and professional conduct
  • appropriate communication
  • sportspersonship
  • confidentiality.

You might also want to include details of any policies or rules that they should also be bound to uphold. This could relate to rules and regulations for competitions, social media, photography, or the policies of your National Governing Body or sports organisation.

It should also include details for how the Codes of Conduct will be monitored and enforced, and what action may be taken in the event they are not being upheld.

Communicating your Codes of Conduct

How you communicate your Codes of Conduct is critical to their success, and may be different for each of the audiences:

  • Participants and their parents or carers may have to agree to the Code of Conduct when they first sign up for your sessions, during participant inductions, or during the registration for each block or term of sessions.
  • Coaches and officials should have Codes of Conduct included in their employee training and any handbooks or staff inductions.

The coaching role is one that comes with responsibilities. Ensuring the deliverers of physical activity and sport can do so safely and appropriately, particularly when it comes to children, young people, and adults at risk, is an underpinning principle of your duty of care.

Safe recruitment is the foundation you should put in place to make sure your participants’ experience is safe and appropriate and delivered by the right people, preventing access to and minimising the risk of selecting people to work with them that may not be suitable to do so or that may harm them.

Safe recruitment doesn’t just apply when you are thinking about paid positions. As a coach, you may use assistant coaches or unqualified helpers to assist you in sessions. These assistants and helpers are likely to fall within the definition of regulated activity.

This includes roles that involve working with children or adults at risk in an unsupervised capacity frequently, which means on three or more occasions within a 30-day period.

The delivery of physical activity and sport can involve regular close contact with participants through:

  • the nature of the sporting activity itself
  • physical support required for safety
  • the process of developing their confidence, trust, and social skills
  • supporting their emotional needs during sessions.

The people that provide this support must be suitable to be working with children, young people, and adults at risk, and it is your responsibility to drive safe recruitment processes in all that you do.

As a minimum, a safe recruitment process should include:

  • Pre-recruitment: Defined role and responsibilities, qualifications, and training.
  • Recruitment screening: To ensure individuals have the relevant skills, knowledge a,nd experience for the role.
  • Pre-employment checks: Verify identity, qualifications, experience, references, and eligibility to work in the UK.
  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS): This ensures that people who will be working with children and adults at risk are safe to do so and will confirm whether an individual holds any criminal convictions or is barred from regulated activity. Those who are aged 16 and above and are in a regulated activity working or volunteering with children or adults at risk are eligible for a DBS disclosure check.
  • Inductions: To get individuals off to the best start and help them to understand what you are all about, including your policies and procedures.

Remember

National Governing Bodies and sports organisations may have specific requirements, policies or guidelines relating to the use of DBS checks. It’s important that you check these.

When you are delivering physical activity and sport, you will need an insurance policy that covers you for the coaching duties you carry out.

Whether you are in your own building, using a dedicated facility, utilising outside or public space or accessing leisure facilities, putting in place effective insurance to cover those accessing your services, the coaching you provide, and the space and equipment that is used is important to protect yourself.

Insurance can be complicated, so using the services of a specialist or insurance broker can help you to put in place what you need and make those decisions about how much cover you need, ensuring both you and the participants you are coaching are covered.

There are many different types of insurance policies available to individuals and organisations. The venue you use may also have specific requirements for you to be insured for to access their space, so always check first.

Main policies to consider:

  • Employer’s liability cover: Cover for legal liability for injuries to employees arising in the course of employment.
  • Personal accident insurance: Provides compensation if you are injured due to your coaching duties.
  • Public liability insurance: Provides cover for you should a claim be made against you and/or the organisation in respect of bodily injury to participants or members of the public in connection with the activities or sport undertaken.
  • Professional indemnity: Provides legal cover against claims of breaches of professional duty by coaches while acting in the scope of their employment (e.g., for giving poor advice, errors/omissions in advice or libel and slander).

Reflect

Consider what you do, where you do it, and how you do it when deciding on the insurance cover that you need. It is always worth seeking the advice of specialists in physical activity and sports coaching.

If you are registered with your National Governing Body or a professional association insurance cover for you as a coach is sometimes part of the membership benefit: check what is included first before you get additional insurance.

 

UK Coaching Insurance

UK Coaching Insurance covers you to coach across 250+ sports and activities and can insure you for sports or physical activities that you officiate, tutor, assess, mentor and/or support as a coach developer.

INSURANCE OPTIONS

Creating Safe Spaces

Coaching physical activity and sport brings with it some inherent risks for the coach and the participants. You have a responsibility as a coach to minimise the risk as much as possible to ensure participants can take part safely. This includes the considerations you should make around the spaces you are using.

Whether this is a dedicated space, a leisure centre sports hall, or an outside public area, as a coach you need to ensure it is appropriate for what you are delivering and is a safe space for the participants.

There will always be risks in physical activity and sport, but the space you are using should not be one of them.

A risk assessment is an analytical process you should undergo to identify:

  • the area/space/equipment/activity being assessed, including the coaches and participants using it
  • potential hazards that may cause harm
  • the risk of that hazard to the safety of your participants and others
  • the actions you will take to either eliminate the hazard or if that isn’t possible, minimise the risk of harm or injury (known as controls or mitigations).

As a coach assessing and evaluating risk is something that you will be doing in your everyday delivery known as Dynamic Risk Assessment, so managing the process in a structured way will help you to create and maintain a safe space.

There are several different risk assessments you may want to consider as a coach:

  • General building or space.
  • The activity being delivered.
  • The age and development stage of participants.
  • The equipment being used (including erection and dismantling).
  • Running an event.
  • Fire risk assessment.
  • COSHH risk assessment.
  • Children and adults with additional needs.

There may also be other specific risk assessments relating to your physical activity or sport.

The risk assessment process should be carried out regularly, be thorough and honest, and be recorded in writing. The recording and regular reviewing of your risk assessments are critical to enabling you to continually seek improvements and ensure identified risks are assessed on an ongoing basis.

The identified risks should also be shared with the people that may be impacted by them.

Unfortunately, injuries will inevitably occur in your sessions, and it is essential that you revisit your risk assessments after an injury to ensure they are still relevant, or if the circumstances of the accident have identified a previously unidentified risk.

Reporting hazards

If you identify a hazard or potential hazard, you should report this straight away to your employer, organisation manager, or health and safety representative, and take immediate steps to prevent danger or harm to yourself, colleagues, and participants.

Hazard (including potential hazard) reports should include as much information as possible, such as:

  • what happened
  • The people involved
  • where and when you witnessed the hazard or potential hazard.

Organisations should have clear procedures for reporting, recording, and responding to hazards in their Health and Safety policy. Reporting on hazards can help organisations identify potential causes of incidents and mitigate against them to protect you, other colleagues, and your participants.

The use of equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE), is necessary for many types of physical activities and sports, and it is imperative that the equipment being used is safe, fit for purpose, and is regularly checked by a competent person.

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 lays out the legal responsibilities to ensure a safe working environment for employees and the people who visit the premises, such as participants and parents. Equipment and its safe use are included in this legislation.

Working spaces, equipment including PPE and operating systems should be maintained in good working order to prevent risk to the health, safety, and welfare of people working and using them.

This requires:

  • regular maintenance of premises and equipment including regular inspection, suitable testing, and cleaning should be carried out at appropriate intervals
  • keeping maintenance records
  • removing any defective equipment from use and fixing the defects before it is put back into use
  • that maintenance be carried out by a suitably qualified person
  • that in addition to inspections, equipment, including any sport-specific equipment required to safely participate, should be checked by you prior to use.

Remember

A Risk Assessment should be completed specifically for the moving, putting up, and taking down of equipment and reviewed on a regular basis.

Maintenance and inspections should be recorded with dates and who completed the maintenance or inspection.

Coaching is a busy job. When you are getting ready to deliver your sessions, putting out equipment, getting your space ready, and welcoming participants, it is a good idea to use safety checklists to make sure you are getting it right every time.

These simple prompts can help you to keep track and record safety factors that are critical to your sessions and create safe spaces for your participants.

Your checklists should cover the main areas of health and safety specific to the safe delivery of your session.

At the minimum, they should cover:

  • working temperatures
  • lighting
  • fire safety
  • first aid
  • cleanliness and traffic routes
  • equipment
  • safe activity.

Safety Checklists should become a part of your Normal Operating Procedures (NOPs) before a session starts and should be understood and followed by anyone delivering for you or with you. They should be completed on a regular basis and any negative points recorded and reviewed for improvement.

There will always be risks in sport and physical activity, but the sun should not be one of them. Skin cancer is the UK's No.1 cancer, with sunburn in childhood doubling the risk of melanoma.

Keeping your knowledge about sun protection up to date is a crucial aspect of your overall duty of care. With excessive temperatures becoming more common during the summer months, an understanding of heat protection will also help you avoid, recognise and treat heat-related illnesses.

As a coach, you have a responsibility to minimise both of these risks as well as role model positive sun and heat protection behaviour.

UK Coaching has partnered with the Melanoma Fund to provide key advice and tips to ensure you effectively Sunguard all in your care and apply it effectively within your outdoor sessions.

Sun protection

The following tips are specifically designed to help create better habits, inspire others, protect you and  others, as well as future proof your outdoor sessions:

  1. Sun policy: Providing all who attend your outdoor sessions with your policies and guidelines around sun and heat protection is a highly effective first step. Ensure that your policies and guidelines are simple and easy to find and follow for your participants (and their parents or carers) and other members of the wider coaching team.
  2. UV Index: Using this as a way to check whether sun protection is required avoids confusion around overcast days.  Easily found on your mobile, if the forecast promotes a level of 3+ then the sun is powerful enough to cause sunburn, and sun protection is required.
  3. Lead by example: Improving your own sun protection habits sends a stronger message than just giving instructions. Applying and reapplying sunscreen while you are with your participants and other members of the wider coaching team, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great way to lead by example and encourage positive sun protection behaviour.
  4. Get the habit: Sun protection can feel like a task, especially if it's not part of your routine. However, sunburn is increasingly seen as unacceptable and a failure to fulfil your duty of care. Get into the habit of checking that your participants have brought, applied and or reapplied sun cream (especially important during longer sessions or day camps) as part of your session routine. Taking proactive measures will ensure you fulfil your duty of care to protect your participants and help safeguard your reputation by practicing good sun protection.
  5. Use shade: Never underestimate the importance of shade. It can be used for breaks, spectating, and when coaching tactics and strategies. Use tents, canopies, umbrellas, or natural shade from trees, especially during the four-hour window around noon.
  6. Marginal gains: An effective way to encourage sun protection is to emphasise that sunburn is not only dangerous, painful, and unsightly, but it can also hinder performance. If you have a two-day event, getting sunburned on the first day can ruin the second day!

Heat protection

Implementing these strategies can significantly reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and ensure a safer environment for all in your care during summer sessions:

  1. Scheduling: Keep an eye on weather forecasts to avoid scheduling sessions during peak heat times or heat waves. If unavoidable, plan practices and games early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are typically lower. 
  2. Hydration: Schedule regular hydration breaks, every 15-20 minutes, especially during intense activities. Advise participants to drink water before practice starts and avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks.
  3. Cooling stations: Where possible, set up cooling stations with fans, misters, or ice towels to help participants cool down quickly. Keeping cool can help performance in training and competitions. Limit the duration of practice sessions to avoid prolonged exposure to heat.
  4. Lower intensity: Reduce the intensity of workouts, especially during the hottest parts of the day, and include more rest periods. Keep a close eye on anyone who is struggling – always put safety first.
  5. Education: Ensure you and all in your care understand how to avoid heat-related illnesses and recognise the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, confusion, and excessive sweating or lack of.
  6. Emergency procedures: Have a clear plan in place for responding to heat-related emergencies, including knowing when and how to seek medical assistance.

Heat index chart

Remember

Sun and heat protection measures should be included in your risk assessments, NOP and EAP.

During high temperatures, it is crucial that you prioritise the safety of your participants by performing dynamic risk assessments and adapting your activities accordingly.

Sunguarding: Sun and heat protection course for sports and outdoor recreation

Updating your skills as an aspiring or existing professional, working in sport, physical activity, or outdoor recreation is a vital part of your responsibility, and that includes sun and heat protection.

The new Sunguarding course provides learners with certificated accreditation, 3 CPD points and the knowledge required to mitigate all types of UV risks. 

Learn about:

  • effective sun protection
  • awareness of skin cancer
  • heat protection
  • leading by example.

Safe Activity

Great experiences in physical activity and sport are the key to developing sporting habits for life. As a coach, you deliver much more than just activity. Safe, compelling, engaging, and fun activities delivered by a quality coach have a key role in supporting participants’ holistic development.

How you build your foundations will directly affect the outcome for the participant, so always build a solid base, and always keep striving for improvement.

Many physical activity and sport environments can be risky by their nature. Creating a framework for safe activity will make sure you start off in the right way and support children safely in their ongoing development and sporting journey.

Safe and effective use of space and equipment has a pivotal role in the success and safety of your sessions. Whether you are in a dedicated or non-dedicated indoor space or utilising outside private or public areas, how you maximise the space and equipment available will impact:

  • the safety of your participants, including moving between activities
  • the number of participants that can be safely coached at one time
  • the number of coaches/volunteers/assistant coaches/unqualified helpers you will need to run the session.

What needs to be considered:

  • The goal of the session:
    • Development of skill.
    • General fitness or physical conditioning,
    • Fun and engagement.
  • How much space you’ll need for:
    • specific apparatus, side stations and progressions
    • delivering to a large group, more specialist fitness or conditioning, or smaller groups
    • more ‘game’ style activities, and also the equipment that will be the safest to use.
  • The age and maturity of the participants in the session:
    • Younger children will be safer in a plan where they can move from one activity to another without crossing over other equipment or groups.
    • If you're working with teenagers, they will be much more aware of their surroundings and would be better positioned to navigate the space in a more complex way.
    • If you're working with disabled participants i.e., physical disability, or a visual impairment, plan the space and equipment around their specific needs.

Use the space and equipment plan to help to assess how many coaches or volunteers or helpers you will need to manage the activity layout and travelling between activities.

Planning is critical to achieving success.

If you are unable to deliver a session for an unplanned reason, or because you have a holiday booked, another coach should be able to pick up your plan and understand where you are currently, what you are trying to achieve, and what you want to be delivered in the sessions, creating consistency for the participants.

A good session plan will be the key to getting the most out of the time, the space, the equipment, and the participants you have. Sessions should always be safe, fun, and engaging, but this can get lost in translation if the session doesn’t flow well. There should be some consistent threads that run through a group of session plans:

Plan, Coach, Reflect

A plan is a great starting point, but it should always be reviewed at the end of the session, particularly when the plan might include participant development over a course of sessions.

Be clear on what success looks like for each of the sessions and assess progress against that success measure at the end of each session. You may have achieved more or less than you planned, so that should be factored into the next sessions.

The Plan, Coach, Reflect cycle is critical to keeping session planning realistic and effective.

Adapting your activity is a core skill of a great coach. Adaptations can be necessary for a host of different reasons:

Safe Activity: People

When a participant first arrives at your session, they will be excited to get going, looking to have fun and learn new things, and looking to you as a coach to show them what to do and how to do it. On the other side of that coin, they won’t know what is expected of them, how they should dress, how they should behave, who is in charge, or even how to use the equipment or space they are in.

Participant inductions are critical to creating safe activity and a vital first step for individuals trying a new activity and a new facility for the first time. Its main aim is to ensure participants know the basics to get involved in a safe way, and what your expectations are of them, plus the key people that they will interact with.

Participant Codes of Conduct are a great way to formalise the information you have given and should be tailored to the age and maturity of the participant, particularly the complexity of the language used, and the level of detail provided.

Whilst keeping it short and simple, the key elements that need to be included relate to the safety and well-being of the new participant, as well as other participants they will be in the space with:

  • How to be safe during the session.
  • How they can use equipment safely.
  • What to do if they have a problem.
  • How to move about the space safely.
  • The rules of play.
  • Appropriate clothing for the activity.
  • What will happen during typical sessions.
  • What to do if there is an emergency.

Depending on the age of the participant, you may also want to include in your induction details like:

  • Use of phones during sessions (what is and isn’t acceptable).
  • Personal standards (hygiene, no smoking/drinking/drugs before or during sessions).
  • Safe use of social media and digital communications with other participants.

This can be delivered in a one-to-one or as a group, including the parents or carers before they attend their first session.

Appropriate supervision in any delivery of physical activity and sport is critical to safe practice. It enables you as a coach to better understand the individual needs and capabilities of your participants and provide safe, suitable, and appropriate sessions.

Supervising your participants appropriately is essential to the success of your programme, maintaining a safe environment, and discharging your duty of care to the participants you coach.

The variables that affect safe supervision

The number of participants that you should be supervising at any one time will be impacted by several variables. When assessing your supervision ratios, you should consider all factors, including:

  • the age of the participants
  • any additional supervision needs i.e., young children, disabilities
  • competence and experience of the participants
  • availability of space and equipment
  • nature of your space i.e., indoors or outdoors, closed in space or outside open space
  • nature and associated risk of the activity you deliver
  • availability of safely recruited unqualified ‘helpers’.

Remember

National Governing Bodies and sports organisations may have their own guidelines or restrictions on coach-to-participant ratios based on their in-depth understanding of your physical activity or sport.

Equally, your space provider may have coach-to-participant ratios defined as part of their risk assessments.

If they provide this guidance, you should adhere to it.

Always check before you make any decisions or plan your sessions.

As a lead coach, you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in your session. Assistant coaches and helpers can support the delivery but should not, under any circumstances, be leading a specific activity or be responsible for their own groups.

When you are considering coach-to-participant ratios, a factor that can affect them is the use of assistant coaches or helpers, whether those are adult helpers or young leaders.

Key Legislation

Coaching is a role that holds significant responsibility. Whether your participants are children, young people, adults, or adults at risk, there are some key pieces of legislation and sector guidance that help to define safe practices in your coaching delivery to protect you and your participants.

Legislation

You need to protect your participants by recognising and responding appropriately to any form of discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination, be it direct or indirect discrimination, harassment, or victimisation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulator for workplace health and safety, enforcing health and safety law in the UK, which aims to prevent work-related ill health, injury, and death.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK. It's sometimes referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act, or HASAWA.

It sets out the general duties which:

  • employers have towards employees and members of the public
  • employees have to themselves and to each other
  • certain self-employed people have towards themselves and others.

This means taking all reasonable steps to minimise risks to health or safety of those participating by:

  • providing a safe place to work
  • providing safe equipment
  • ensuring that staff receive relevant and adequate training
  • conducting risk assessments
  • providing adequate facilities such as toilets and access to clean drinking water
  • ensuring that there is a dedicated person responsible for monitoring health and safety.

Just as we have a duty of care to look after the physical participant, we have an equal requirement to take care of the digital person as well.

Under GDPR, digital and hard copies of personal information need to be:

  • used fairly, lawfully and transparently
  • used only for specified and relevant purposes
  • accurate, up to date and kept for no longer than is necessary
  • handled in a secure way.

The Children's Act protects children and sets guidelines for those working with children to follow, ensuring the needs of the child are put first.

These guidelines state that:

  • all Children have the fundamental right to be protected from harm
  • children have a right to be heard, to be listened to and to be taken seriously
  • careful consideration must be given to children who have special educational needs, specific safeguarding or medical needs
  • individuals should have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance before working with children
  • all qualifications should be checked and deemed appropriate
  • individuals should have appropriate safeguarding training.

The Care Act puts adult safeguarding on a legal footing.

Under The Care Act, an adult at risk is someone over 18 years old who: 

  • has care and support needs
  • is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is legislation designed to make a difference to the lives of people who lack mental capacity.

The Act protects vulnerable people over the age of 16 to make their own choices, stating that every adult, whatever their disability, has the right to make their own decisions where possible. It also provides guidance to support people who need to make decisions on behalf of someone else based on the individual’s best interests.

Sector guidance

First aid is another critical element to safe practices. Everyone taking part in your sessions should have immediate access to help if they are taken ill or injured, and you have a responsibility as a coach to make sure that is the case.

You must always ensure that:

  • you have a suitably stocked First Aid kit
  • a suitably qualified first aider should be present when activity is taking place.

The law requires that your first aid arrangements are ‘adequate and appropriate’ for what you do.

To assess what is ‘adequate and appropriate for you, you need to make an assessment.

Consider

Consider:

  • The type of activity you deliver.
  • The hazards and risks identified in your risk assessments.
  • The equipment you use in your delivery.
  • The number of participants (and parents) at any one time.
  • The types of accidents that you have previously had and recorded in your accident book.
  • Availability of people with First Aid training.

 

The first aid kit

The contents of your First Aid kit should be guided by the First Aid assessment you have completed and be tailored to the types of injuries that are likely to occur with your activity and equipment.

As a minimum, it should contain:

Depending on the injury risk from the activity you deliver and the equipment you use, you may also want to consider additional items such as:

  • foil blankets
  • scissors
  • cleansing wipes
  • adhesive tape
  • single use ice packs (or reusable ice packs if you have a freezer facility)
  • single use heat packs
  • slings and other injury braces and supports
  • strapping tapes.

Checking your kit

It’s important that you regularly check the contents of your first aid kit and replace any items that are low or missing. Some items in the first aid kit, particularly those that are sterile wrapped, may have expiry dates, so those should be checked, and out-of-date items disposed of and replaced.

First aid training

Although it isn’t a requirement to have trained first aiders, your first aid assessment and history of accidents and injuries may indicate that having people trained in emergency first aid would be appropriate.

This type of training will provide knowledge and qualification in applying emergency first aid in a situation where someone becomes ill or injured, including how to do CPR, methods of use of defibrillators, wound dressing and bandaging, and the appropriate treatment of injuries.

First Aid: Primary Survey

Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing, and Circulation (DRABC), also known as a primary survey, is a systematic and quick assessment to check for life-threatening conditions or injuries.

Concussion

A concussion is an injury to the brain that must be treated seriously as head injuries can be fatal. A concussion can be caused by direct impact to the head through a collision with an object or another person, and through impact that results in rapid movement of the head (i.e., whiplash).

Most concussions occur without the loss of consciousness: being knocked out. Loss of consciousness occurs in less than 10% of conussions. Participants who lose consciousness due to a head injury have a concussion.

You have a responsibility to keep your participants safe from harm. This includes:

  • recognising the signs of concussion
  • removing anyone suspected of being concussed immediately
  • returning participants safely to activity.

Recognise

It is everyone's responsibility (participants; coaches; referees; spectators and families) to look out for suspected concussions in participants.

Any one or more of the following signs may indicate a concussion:

  • Loss of consciousness or responsiveness.
  • Impact seizure.
  • Clutching of the head after contact.
  • Lying motionless or rigid, slow to get up.
  • Loss of balance or problems with coordination.
  • Confusion, a delay in answering questions, dazed, or just having a blank expression.
  • Changes in behaviour, such as feeling unusually irritable or more emotional.
  • Vomiting.

Remove

If in doubt, sit them out

In all types of physical activity and sport, and at all levels, participants with a suspected concussion should:

  • be immediately removed from the activity – training, play, or competition

  • be assessed by an appropriate healthcare professional within 24hrs

  • not be left alone for the first 24hrs

  • not return to activity until concussion has been excluded by an appropriate healthcare professional

  • not take part in any further activity within 24hrs of a suspected concussion.

  • rest for the first 24-48hrs

  • following a concussion, follow a graduated return to activity.

Return

It's important to follow a graduated return to activity to reduce the risks of:

  • a slow recovery
  • further brain injury
  • long-term problems.

Most symptoms of concussion resolve after a short period of time, but for some people (children and young adults) this can take longer.

For more on this, and for the latest government guidance on concussion, visit Everything You Need to Know About Concussion.

Unfortunately, accidents and injuries in physical activity and sport are inevitable. Whilst most may be bumps, bruises, and sprains that require minimal first aid, there may also be occasions where more significant accidents occur, including fractures, broken bones, joint injuries, or head injuries.

Recording accidents and near misses is an important part of understanding your hazards and risks, and identifying recurring issues that may benefit from additional risk assessment controls or additional training for the coaches.

If there are more than 10 employees, it’s a legal requirement to keep an accident book. These can be purchased easily and are readily available. Even if you don’t have a legal requirement, accident recording should still be undertaken, even if this is in a simple form that captures key information.

As well as helping you to understand patterns and frequency of accidents, it may also be a requirement of your insurance in the event of a legal personal injury claim.

Information to record

Accident reports should be completed where a person had an accident or a near miss, or an injury was sustained that required first aid. The record should include the following information:

  • What you are reporting (i.e., accident, injury, near miss).
  • When and where it happened.
  • What happened.
  • Who was involved in the accident (including coach and participant/s details).
  • Details of any witnesses that saw the accident occur.
  • What type of injury has been sustained.
  • What treatment was provided, including any emergency services involvement.
  • Who is completing the accident form.
  • Any actions to stop the accident happening again.

Accident reports should be regularly reviewed and form part of the review of your Risk Assessment process. Injuries to coaches and volunteers as well as participants should be recorded in the same way.

Remember

Accident reports and records will contain personal information and data, so they should be stored securely and only accessible to people that need to see them.

National Governing Bodies and sports organisations may have specific requirements around the reporting of accidents and incidents, particularly if your registration includes an element of insurance. It’s important to check what their reporting requirements are and ensure you follow them.

Certain workplace injuries, near misses, and cases of work-related disease, must legally be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

This is known as RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). RIDDOR reporting must happen in the case of a work-related death or injury when:

  • there has been an accident that caused the injury
  • the accident was work related
  • the injury is a type that is reportable.

Reportable injuries

Where RIDDOR requires the reporting of injuries such as broken bones for workers (i.e. coaches and volunteers), injuries that occurred to participants as a result of normal participation in activity do not need to be reported unless they were as a result of the condition or maintenance of the premises or equipment, or inadequate supervision of the activity.

Remember

If you’re unsure about reporting injuries to participants under RIDDOR, it is recommended that you seek advice from your NBG or sports organisation and or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

If an accident is RIDDOR reportable, it must be completed within 10 days of the accident occurring. Reporting of an injury can be completed online directly with the HSE.

Download the reflective template and consider how Safe to Practice you and your organisation are.

Earn A Digital Badge

Learn about the importance of Duty to Care with our newly-enhanced Toolkit and demonstrate your commitment to looking after the people you coach by earning our Sport England-funded Digital Badge

LEARN MORE

Duty to Care: Safe to Practice

Operate with safety and effectiveness while promoting well-being for you and your participants within your scope of practice

GO TO THE SAFE TO PRACTICE PILLAR

Related Resources

  • Code of Practice for Sports Coaches

    View
  • Creating a Safe Space for Participation

    View
  • App-y Days! But Remember to Observe the Coach Code of Conduct

    View

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