Safety at NWOBS

Safety is a central part of Northwest Outward Bound School’s identity and ability to operate successful and transformative courses for our students. Risk and uncertainty are central to adventure and personal growth. Embracing this philosophy, Northwest Outward Bound School is committed to identifying, assessing and mitigating hazards, while at the same time providing real and compelling challenges to our students.

NWOBS operates courses in some of the most technically challenging environments in the entire OBUSA system, and as a result, a strong culture of safety is built into our organization. These values can be seen from the board, through the leadership, and to the field level. We are proud of our excellent safety record and continuously review and refine our safety policies and practices to maintain and improve on that record.

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Photo by Alice Burgess

As the Safety Committee Chair, Steve Smith serves as the primary liaison between the board and the safety committee, which is comprised of staff, board members, and Outward Bound supporters with specific risk management expertise.

Steve works closely with the school Safety Director, Erika Halm. Along with her Washington Program Director duties, as the Safety Director she assesses and improves risk management practices, cultivates and monitors the culture of safety, and monitors and leads safety performance throughout the school. Erika considers safety for the whole organization– safety in the field for students and staff, and also safety on base and within staff when they aren’t on the job.

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Photo by Mitsu Iwasaki

One of the projects the safety team has taken on this past year, is the idea of measuring safety not by the absence of negative things (e.g. injuries, illness, incidents) but instead, measuring the presence of positive capacities, or “examples of critical thinking, situational awareness, or innovation that help us overcome factors that might otherwise lead to an incident.” (The idea of positive capacities is based on the work of Sidney Dekker.)

In 2018 the safety teams are focusing on deepening systems and processes for promoting and measuring positive capacities, promoting a culture of safety, dealing with the increasing impact of fires and smoke on our programs and basecamps, and being proactive in planning for OSHA-related concerns in the workplace.

At NWOBS we strive to provide our students with challenging and rewarding experiences while promoting a culture of safety and risk management. This emphasis on safety allows our students to focus on pushing their limits,  building their character, and becoming better citizens.

Find out more about safety and risk management at NWOBS here:


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