Safety on campsites
05 July 2019

Safety on site: how to avoid campsite calamities

Whether it’s a one-nighter, a weekender or a full week under the canvas, camping is still the ultimate Scouting and Guiding activity. However, campsites are also hazard hotspots and accidents can (and do!) happen.

Unity has been insuring Scout camps and activities for more than 80 years and we have learnt a lot from the mistakes and misfortunes of others. We’d like to share this knowledge with you so your next camping trip can be a safer one.

Pitch perfect

Not many tent instruction manuals list all the potential perils of pitching. Some of the accidents reported here would be hard enough to imagine! However, many of these mishaps could easily be avoided by taking a few extra precautions.

  • Pitch sleeping tents at least two metres apart to reduce tripping hazards and prevent the spread of fire. Cooking tents should be at least five metres away from the others.
  • Warn your participants of the risk of trips on pegs and guy ropes. It is an unfamiliar environment and they are not obvious in the dark when you are tired.
  • If possible, avoid pitching tents in high winds – especially big marquees. A leader suffered a hyper-extended back when trying to hold down a marquee in a strong gust of wind.
  • Once a marquee is up, use extra guy lines to reinforce it against sudden gusts.
  • Use the right tent for the camping conditions. Giant party tents have become very popular for weddings and parties but they are not designed for extreme weather. The number of accidents caused by these mega marquees is on the rise. For example:
  • A party tent was being used as a mess tent when it was blown off its anchors, collapsing on the people inside and knocking hot water urns onto several diners. Another wreaked havoc with rail services after it was blown onto the tracks.
  • Many claims are for party tents landing on cars, but they are often declined because the car owner also pitched the tent. Most policies only cover damage caused by the negligence of others.
  • Keep the site tidy and make sure everyone in the group uses a torch at night to prevent tripping accidents.

Open fire

The widespread use of log fires, gas stoves, hot oil and boiling water put cooking among the most hazardous activities on site. We even have records of accidents occurring before the first flame is lit.

  • Wear suitable footwear and set aside a special area for breaking up and chopping wood.
  • Look out for nails and splinters in wooden pallets before getting stuck in.  Best of all avoid them if possible.
  • Store firewood carefully so it does not fall on people when they collect it in the dark and away from the fire area so it doesn’t create a trip hazard.
  • Make your Scouts aware of hidden hazards while collecting wood. No one wants a trip to A&E after getting a branch in the eye.
  • Wear suitable clothing around fires, with no loose ends or flammable materials.
  • Follow all instructions on gas bottles. Check out the Gas Safety Guidance provided by the Scouts.
  • Be aware too of the dangers from Carbon Monoxide – not only in the cooking area but also from lamps or gas fridges.
  • Keep frying pans on stable stove tops to avoid burns from hot oil and spilt boiling water.
  • Don’t expect young people to try to lift and move pans or billies that are full or too heavy for them to manage safely.

Keep watch

While the kids should enjoy some independence, it is still important to supervise youngsters around the camp – particularly if they are prone to making mischief. You may need to intervene, especially if someone is getting hurt. Even ‘free time’ needs some element of supervision and more accidents happen then than any other time.

This selection of safety tips should help you prepare for your next camping trip, but there is plenty more advice available and our team would be happy to talk with you about your plans. The fewer flying gazebos we hear about, the better!


Further advice for safety at Scout camps

You can find more information by visiting the Scouts Camping and Practical Skills safety page.