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Safety made to measure

Classrooms are potentially hazardous places. Michael Evans reports on a new scheme from the University of Greenwich, which aims to eliminate some of the dangers.

While most secondary pupils appreciate the need for eye protection when involved in potentially hazardous activities in the classroom, they would probably complain that available eye protectors are uncomfortable, too big, too bulky, difficult to see through and frankly unattractive. In fact, most pupils freely admit to not wearing them even when they know that they should.

This was the clear message to University of Greenwich researchers when they questioned more than 2,000 pupils aged between 12 and 16 during a study of health and safety provision in schools.

As a result of its enquiries, the commercial arm of the University of Greenwich recently launched the Safety Association for Education (SAFE), after the research concluded that there was a need for more information on safety issues and a central body which could build on, and maintain, links with complementary organisations, highlighting the needs and problems of safety education.

Membership of SAFE is open to individual members, all schools, educational institutions and local authorities. It is currently free and the university hopes that it will secure enough sponsorship for this to continue to be the case.

For one of its first projects, the team looked at the question of eye protectors designed specifically for children and a link-up with Iles Optical has led to the development of three new models. Although designed with secondary pupils in mind, these are also suitable for younger children.

There are two standard polycarbonate models, the Junior Labspec at Pounds 1.60 and the slightly more stylish Junior Continental at Pounds 1.85. Top of the range is the Junior Spirit, with coloured frames, adjustable side arms and scratch-proof, coated lenses. The extra features are reflected in the price and while Pounds 3.50 seems good value for money, hard- pressed schools might decide to opt for one of the cheaper versions.

Since schools now have to comply with the Safety Signs at Work Regulations 1994, making it necessary to provide signs to warn against particular hazards, Greenwich enlisted the active help of groups of young people to develop a series of 30 magnetic safety cards.

The cards come with an attractive display board, designed to take up to nine cards at any one time. The tenth space has a permanently printed list of safety rules. The cards include the standard blue HSE signs, plus several black and yellow signs carrying warnings such as "hot", "toxic", and "tie back loose hair". Blank cards are also available for teachers to write their own warnings. A set of 30 cards plus five blanks and the board costs about Pounds 145.

Children and adults might like to wear the warning signs printed on T-shirts, sweatshirts or baseball caps. Printed below the sign is the appropriate slogan, such as "I am toxic", "I can irritate", or "I am explosive!" Mugs are also available. T-shirts cost Pounds 7.95 and mugs are Pounds 3.75.

With risk assessment now part of the national curriculum Orders for Science and Technology at all key stages, Linda Jones the research leader has produced two sets of safety activity work sheets. Currently only available for key stages 3 and 4, these come in two ring binders and are designed for homework, classwork or a combination of both.

The usual format is for pupils to consider a problem, task or question before deciding on what action. to take. Topics include how to undertake a risk assessment; potential hazards in the science laboratory, the technology workshop and the home; eye protection; electrical safety and hazard warning symbols. Both folders cost Pounds 49.95. It is planned to develop similar materials for key stages 1 and 2.

SAFE is developing a video and a series of seminars and courses is planned, together with a conference for July next year.

This new association could prove to be a powerful and much-needed additional force in the educational safety movement.

Details of membership, products and prices can be obtained from the Safety Association for Education, University of Greenwich School of Education, Mansion Site, Bexley Road, Eltham, London SE9 2PQ. The web site is directorysafeindex.htm

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