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Educating society to calculate hazards

Your article "Are they bonkers to ban conkers?" (TES, December 8) expresses concern about an over-zealous approach to ensuring the safety of children at school. The Health and Safety Executive shares that concern.

The article asserts that pupils are not covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In fact, Section 3 requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of persons not in their employment. Pupils at school are protected by this duty.

The article also suggests that many want schools to be risk-free zones. This is impossibile, which health and safety legislation recognises with the expectation that risks are reduced "so far as is reasonably practicable".

It is impractical to expect schools to be risk-free, but if they were, where would children learn the skills necessary to face the hazards and risks they will encounter through life? The answer is likely to be in places away from any kind of adult supervision where the potential for harm is even greater.

Investigation of accidents indicate that a lack of awareness of risk can be a significant contributory factor. HSE has long recognised that young people are at particular risk in the workplace. Recent HSE rsearch has shown that young men aged 16 to 24 are the most at risk of having an accident at work, particularly when they have just started a new job.

We can reduce that risk by equipping children and young people with the ability to identify hazards, assess the risks associated with them and take steps to reduce or mitigate them.

Children should, where appropriate, be taught to understand hazards and risk and how they should be managed. This better reflects the nature of society where we all have to face and deal with a multitude of risks in our daily life.

HSE, with a range of educational stakeholders, is actively trying to encourage better education in risk concepts as a means to a more risk-literate society. This is reflected in the national curriculum changes incorporating risk education into all key stages.

School authorities and employers need to assess risks and determine appropriate measures, taking the vulnerability of the children into account. A structured and open approach will allow children to learn the skills to live (and work) safely wherever they are.

Peter Graham Director, Strategy and Analytical Directorate Health and Safety Executive Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge London SE1

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