During the practicum, guides will complete an Outdoor or Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course that will cover everything needed to respond to common injuries while working in the field. The WFA course is designed for people taking groups into far more remote wilderness areas than we work in,, but as a matter of professionalism, guides are still required to have basic outdoor first aid training and to maintain WFA certification for as long as they practice Forest Therapy.
Here are a few important safety considerations specific to Forest Therapy:
- There is never any reason to put participants at risk. Sometimes, Forest Therapy guides are mesmerized by the prospect of guiding participants in a location that is truly amazing, but is also dangerous to be in or to get to. Understand that the standard sequence works anywhere. The quality of the experience is not bound to the beauty of the location. Because so many invitations allow participants to wander off on their own, guides’ trails should not have cliffs or dangerous water crossings that might easily become hazardous.
- Take human beings into consideration when choosing a trail as well. If it is a place that is known for people drinking alcohol, taking drugs or engaging in sex, it is not a good place for a Forest Therapy walk.
- Be prepared. Always carry a first aid kit. Always restock your first aid kit.
- Be prepared for weather. One of the most common health risks of being outside is heat exhaustion in the summer and hypothermia in the winter. When guiding in challenging weather conditions, make sure to have extra gear such as hand warmers, gloves, hats, and sweaters for cold weather and extra water for hot weather.
- Be attentive. Count participants at the beginning of the walk to ensure no one is lost. If someone doesn’t hear the coyote call, a search may be needed.
- Whenever possible, guides should remain in the same area as their group. When giving the group space during an invitation or when setting up for tea ceremony, guides should ensure the group is aware of their guide’s location.
- Pay attention to the weather. Don’t be afraid to cut the walk short if the weather conditions warrant it. Track the weather in the days before the walk and make a responsible choice to cancel if the weather is supposed to be bad or there are high winds. It may be disappointing, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
- If someone gets injured, remember to stay calm and follow the WFA protocols.
- When someone is injured and can’t continue, assess the situation and respond accordingly. Sometimes, this means ending the walk immediately and recruiting other participants to help evacuate the injured person. Sometimes this means sending other participants on an invitation and waiting with the injured person to see if they recover in 20 minutes. Where there is an assistant available, a guide should wait with the injured person for evacuation and have the assistant continue guiding the walk. Do what best serves the injured person.
- Guides are responsible for an injured person until that person is passed to someone with equal or greater medical training. Most often this will be a paramedic or EMT.
- Guides should always be 110% sure they are serving tea plants that are properly identified and have been harvested from a location that is unlikely to have been contaminated.
- Be careful when serving tea as the water can be hot. Always leave the cup on the ground or hold it yourself when pouring into it. Never allow a participant to hold their own cup while you pour hot tea into it. Warn participants if the tea is very hot before they drink.
- Be aware of any participants’ allergies. Ask as you begin to serve snacks. It is best to bring a few snack options in case participants forget to inform guides of their needs beforehand.