Managing the Risks of Tobogganing

Posted: November 22, 2017
Tagged As: Risk Management

Tobogganing is an activity that many Canadian children look forward to every winter. To make sure you protect riders, and yourself, we’ve put together some simple guidelines you may want to follow.

Although tobogganing is a favorite winter pastime, it can also be very dangerous.  Downhill sledding in the winter causes numerous accidents and injuries, some serious or even fatal.  What makes this worse is the fact that 80% of all tobogganing accidents are predictable and therefore, preventable.  There are three main causes of tobogganing accidents:

  1. A collision with another sled or vehicle;
  2. Loss of control of the equipment; and
  3. Falling off of the equipment.

Managing the Risk

Your organization has a duty, as an occupier, to keep the property in a safe condition to accommodate its intended purpose.  In order to ensure safety on sledding hills, there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce risk and liability: 

  1. Designation of Hills – not all hills in your municipality are conducive to tobogganing,so:
    • Designate specific hills that are conducive for tobogganing
    • Educate the public on which hills are designated
    • To help you choose your hills, here are some considerations:
      1. Tobogganing  hills should have run-offs long enough for the sledder to come to a natural stop
      2. Hills should be free from obstacles such as rocks, fences and trees, culverts, etc.
      3. Hills should not end on roads, parking lots,  frozen bodies of water or in playing fields where the soccer poles or playground equipment are situated
      4. Tobogganing should only be allowed in the evenings if the area is well lit
      5. If you’re not sure if the hill is conducive to tobogganing – call your insurance provider.  They should walk the hills with you to help you determine the appropriate ones to designate as your tobogganing hills.
    • Communicate to the public which hills are designated for tobogganing with the community
    • Inspect and maintain the designated hills
  1. Maintenance and Design of the Hill
    • The hill should have six to twelve inches of cover snow prior
    • Hills should have an even surface clear of rocks, brush, trees, and knolls
    • Create a protocol for opening and closing the hill.  If possible, the hill should be closed at night and should certainly be closed following an ice storm
    • To ensure the safety of participants, safe areas should be marked outside of the primary sledding area
    • Hay bales should be placed at all points of impact to lessen the chance for injury
    • Telephones should be easily located in the area of the hill for emergency use.  It can’t be assumed that everyone has a cell phone
    • Mechanical means of climbing the hill should be discouraged.  The clothing that children generally wear to toboggan, such as scarves, can be easily caught in mechanical lifts and this can cause severe harm
  1. Supervision:
    • On busy days, supervision may be required to ensure safe tobogganing
    • Positioning spotters at the top and bottom of the hill can help reduce accidents by having them look for hazards and warn patrons of dangerous behaviour
    • Supervisors can also do “spot-check” inspections of the hill while they supervise, or close down the hill immediately if something is wrong
  1. Inspections:
    • Regular inspection of all tobogganing hills further helps to reduce risk
    • Daily inspections should take place whenever possible
    • Inspectors should check the ground surface of the hill, as well as break up any jumps that may have been built and remove any debris
    • Ensure you DOCUMENT all inspections
    • Hills should be closed if conditions are dangerous
  1. Education:
    • Educate the public as to the risks involved with tobogganing and methods of prevention will help to lessen the number of accidents involved in sledding
    • Risk can be reduced by speaking at school assemblies and distributing pamphlets to students and parents on topics such as:
      • Proper clothing
      • How to safely climb the hill
      • Signs of frostbite and hypothermia
      • Educate the public on the best methods of sledding:
        • Avoid tobogganing on plastic sheets or other materials that can be easily pierced by objects on the ground
        • Kneeling on the sled provides the best protection
        • Lying on the stomach can increase the risk of head injuries
        • Lying on the back can increase the risk of spinal injuries
        • Roll to the side to get off the sled
        • Work with public health or local schools to teach kids safe tobogganing skills
  • Signage:
    • Signs should be posted around the hill and in the parking lot(s) indicating:
    • Hours of operation
    • Rules of conduct
    • Parental supervision required
    • Helmets strongly recommended
    • Consumption of alcohol prohibited
    • Location of nearest telephone
    • Contact information for your organization
    • Any other warnings or dangers
    • Ensure that signs are written in simple language so that all participants can understand them
    • For example, use the phrase “Don’t build jumps or use jumps” rather than “Avoid construction and use of man-made jumps”

By taking these precautions, you can successfully reduce the risk of accidents and injuries that are common to this winter recreational activity. 


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