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Dicing with danger

Roger Frost reports on a fresh approach to learning safety.

That children get ill, hurt, damaged or just plain wasted by accidents is no minor concern. That they grow up to become school leavers or even engineers in industry, still unable to assess the risks around them is a startling point raised by the Health and Safety Commission and industry itself.

Though the teaching of safety is now an item in the national curriculum, they say it has often been an ad hoc affair. And the language of safety has been littered with don'ts and nevers and watch-outs to make it a pretty negative experience.

Today's language is about risk, hazard and risk management. Or in the words of a major new resource for school: "just because something is hazardous, doesn't mean we don't do it at all".

The Health and Safety Activities Box, a collaborative product from the Institute of Chemical Engineering and ICI, Esso, British Nuclear Fuels, Nuclear Electric and the Health and Safety Commission, is a case of industry putting money where its mouth is. It is a ready-made collection of ideas and activities to help children (five to 11) consider the consequences of their actions.

The teacher's book, and this is no rule book, is a feast of activities on protective clothes, hygiene, how people affect each other and hazards at school and elsewhere. Many of the activities a cool 100 in all use games to stimulate discussion.

For example, in "Mr Ouch" they learn that some actions have a greater chance of going wrong than others. Children pick up a card to find that Mr Ouch, a felt cut-out, might be climbing a ladder or riding a bike, then they throw a dice to see if he gets it in the head, the leg, or the arm. They bandage him up too.

And in "Passing the lips", children must think carefully about what they put in their mouths. They pick up a card saying "cough medicine", "aspirin", or "crisps" and post it through a smiley face if they'd eat it, or a sad dustbin if not.

There's no shortage of humour, colour or imagination. So the "Pass the bread" activity begins with the caution, "You need dirty hands for this activity". And again, in "Egg pets" pupils have to keep an egg as a pet (yes, really) and see whether it survives a trip round the school. At its most hilariously graphic, children paint out a tooth with "theatrical black" and reflect on their new look.

The teacher's book stands alone as a handy, browsable resource. It flags national curriculum links with many subjects and would be complete but for the availability of a box with much of what you'll need, such as special dice, playing boards and, of course, plastic biscuits.

And there are cards of all kinds. Cards to mix and match clothes to jobs, cards with accident sequences to put in order, cards with people taking risks or being sensible to sort out. (Then there are charts to interpret and pictures with dangers to spot.) Most intriguing are the activities where children try to quantify risks. In one they pick up a chance card and clip it somewhere along a washing line one end saying "No chance", the other saying "Sure thing". In another they literally weigh up the issues using a peg balance, a see-saw with 10 pegs on each side. They have to score a series of statements, from 1 to 10, about smoking. So "Smoking is expensive" might score, say, 8 and get placed on the eighth peg.

The Year 6 class at St Matthew's Primary School, Westminster, took the box for a test drive and coped well. Their teacher, Oona Gilbertson, felt that younger classes would have no problem finding something valuable. She added that while there was so much there, they would certainly comb through and pick activities for their personal and social education programme.

The box, created by the Northamptonshire science team, has a good pedigree. This is their fourth collaboration with the IChemE which has already produced their science activities and environmental activities boxes, all with ready-made activities in zipped plastic wallets. Call it "boil in the bag science" if you like, there are rich ideas here nevertheless.

Strange, it says here that nearly 4,700 pupils were badly hurt in school in 1991-2. But as 3,300 teachers were too, you wonder if we've all got something to learn.

The Health and Safety Activities Box for key stages 1 and 2, Pounds 195. Teacher's guide available separately at Pounds 17.50 plus pp. From the Education Unit, The Institute of Chemical Engineers, 165-189 Railway Terrace, Rugby, CV21 3HQ. Tel: 01788 578214. Fax: 01788 578214. Or from Northamptonshire Science Centre, Lewis Road, Northampton, NN5 7BJ. Tel: 01604 756134

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