The warning came as sports minister Shona Robison launched a consultation in the wake of plans by the UK Government to replace the statutory Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) with a new voluntary code of practice.
The AALA was set up in 1995 to license caving, climbing, trekking and watersports operators after four teenagers died while canoeing at Lyme Bay in Dorset.
Regulations require commercial providers of adventure activities for youngsters under 18 to be licensed. A licence is also needed by schools or colleges paid to provide activities for pupils of another establishment, members of the public, or by activity or field study centres.
Ms Robison launched the consultation at Scotland’s national outdoor training centre at Glenmore, near Aviemore. She is keen to increase levels of physical activity in Scotland and boost the adventure tourism sector.
“However, we recognise many people – including parents – believe an appropriate safety system should continue to provide a level of reassurance and confidence to users, their families and the wider public,” she said.
Patrick McGuire, a partner in personal injury firm and health and safety campaigners Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Watering down these safety regulations would be dangerous and irresponsible. Health and safety regulations are there to protect people and should be strengthened, not diluted.”
Iain Peter, chairman of the Scottish Adventure Activity Forum (SAAF), said young people should have the opportunity to take part in adventurous outdoor activities safely but a balance had to be struck between “risk and bureaucracy”.
Teachers union the NASUWT has said a voluntary code of practice could endanger lives and leave schools and colleges more vulnerable to costly litigation.
The Lyme Bay incident resulted in the deaths of four teenagers, part of a group of eight pupils accompanied by two teachers on a canoeing trip. The tragedy was the result of a series of errors and circumstances, which Devon County Council said “quite simply, should not have happened.”
There have been no prosecutions brought under AALA licensing since its introduction.
In 2006, Laura McDairmant, 15, from Carlisle, died while pool jumping at a waterfall while attending a summer camp at an adventure centre in Kirkcudbrightshire owned by the Abernethy Trust.
A fatal accident inquiry heard the centre held an AALA licence but the activity in which Laura was engaged was not subject to the licensing scheme. The trust was later fined £16,000 under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
In 2007, teenage army cadet Kaylee McIntosh died after she was pinned under a boat on Loch Carnan, South Uist, during an exercise.