Unlike most other sports, the consequences of making a mistake (or more likely a series of them) is likely to have far more serious outcomes than with almost any other sport. Small errors of judgement can put you in an air ambulance and with life changing injuries.
Coaches and anyone who's been in the sport for sometime is cautious, especially when they see enthusiasm that could tip into recklessness. We have all seen more than our fair share of carnage, almost everyone experienced pilots know through the sport has had a serious injury and the tiny minority of those who haven't will mostly admit that is by fluke rather than skill.
After a recent accident, one of the paramedics was heard to remark...
"I have walked up and down this hill way too many times...".
However, the vast majority of accidents are entirely preventable, here are some of the most common causes of accidents in the UK. You can minimise your risks, by understanding them.
Flying into the hill
This is to me the least excusable accident type out there, it happens all to often in the UK and nearly happens more times than I care to think about, but if you crash into the hill, you will probably be going at around 40 - 50kmh, downwind and turning and if you go straight in at that speed, you will be badly broken. There is no need and no excuse. S turn until well clear above. This is a potential fatality every time. I have had to help out with a couple of these and I only know of these happening in the UK.
A small green hill is just as solid as a big mountain and watching someone bounce and tumble in front of you is a rotten experience.
In theory such a benign activity that we all do, but on uneven ground often with the wind slightly off the hill, with rabbit holes and possibly going as fast as you can run with 20kgs on your back. Everyone does it and from time to time people come a cropper and badly.
Little chance of a fatality, high chance of a complex fracture and a requirement for a helicopter. Consider whether you'd run across that hill with your kit on your back, if the answer is no, you probably shouldn't be landing there unless your skills are top notch...
In my 16 years of flying I have seen at least one midair every year I have flown, some have ended okay and others not. All but 2 have been in the UK. This is now a little personal having been hit from behind last Friday. If you don't want a midair, don't fly when it is crazy busy. If you wait, you'll almost always get another chance when the sky is less busy.
An inflated paragldier has a similar frontal footprint as 3 articulated lorries 2 on top and on underneath. Now think how much space you'd give an artic with a horizontal closing speed of 70 - 80KMH and a random vertical speed of 20KMH.
If your wing stops flying you'll be going down at 10m/s/s
We average a drowning every other year and usually at least 2 or 3 serious injuries every year. Roll your dice, but you can't drown if you aren't over the water and if you are going to fly over water, have a plan for if it all goes wrong.
Wind off the hill
If the wind is off the hill, it will be turbulent, throw in thermals, trees producing rotor and you have a recipe for yet more carnage. Solution, don't fly when the wind is off the hill and if you do, have a bloody good plan otherwise you can expect to get spanked. This causes a multitude of serious accidents in the UK each year.
Of all the accidents I have witnessed and known about only 1 has been directly attributable to strong thermals. What is active flying - keeping your wing directly above your head. If it's above you, it can't hurt you and will prevent you getting hurt. Almost all the low collapses I know about have really been a result of being in the wrong place (milk hill bowl when too southerly), behind the trees at combe when it's gone westerly). Therefore, I am not worried about strong thermals in of themselves, in fact, I am normally glad to see them as it means I can get up and get away faster.
Straps not done up
Have a harness that makes it impossible to takeoff without at least one strap done up and never undo straps to walk back up. The sport has lost too many sensible people like this.
My ground handling is a bit crap, or it is with my race harness which is too big. I can't use my hips to help and the harness slips and slides all over the shop. Lots of people get hurt during / just after take off, practice in a safe place, get a harness that fits and if your ground handling isn't great, think about where you are going to take off!
There are of course stupidly strong winds, flying in the lee, acro close to the ground and poor decision making, but the above cover the vast majority of accidents that I have had the displeasure of witnessing or reading about.
Work out which you can cancel out and you can reduce your actual risk massively.