Review of Health and Safety and the Compensation Culture
To: Lord Young of Graffham, Advisor on Health and Safety to the Prime Minister
29 June 2010
Voice – the union for education professionals is pleased that the government has instigated a review of health and safety laws. In particular, we welcome the opportunity for the reintroduction of an element of common sense and refocusing of the Regulations.
There are real issues to be addressed, but we do recognise that there are popular prejudices about health and safety and the "compensation culture" that are largely media-driven and not supported by the small number of accidents and amounts of compensation paid by education bodies in recent years. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that schools are safe places for children relative to other places and circumstances, or forget the high level of care and dedication shown by the vast majority of school staff.
In our experience, health and safety concerns have stopped or restricted many school visits and that is a great shame. Voice has long been supportive of school staff taking pupils out on visits. School visits can offer life-changing experiences and challenges for those who take part in them and there is some excellent guidance and support available to schools, particularly through the Learning Outside the Classroom scheme. Safely conducted and properly supervised, education outside the classroom is an integral part of learning.
The consistent feedback from our members is that school visits are not inherently risky as they are often perceived to be. Nevertheless, there can be excessive bureaucracy associated with school visits and other activities in schools, most particularly lengthy risk assessments that may often be duplicated.
Many visits, most particularly visits to demanding environments or including adventure activities, give children the opportunity to develop their ability to recognise and manage risk sensibly. The elimination of all risk is an unachievable goal and, as many have pointed out, life would grind to a halt. Games and activities should not be banned for fear of injury, litigation or prosecution, however remote this might be.
There must be formal management of health and safety in all education establishments to protect children and young people from unacceptable risks on the premises or on organised activities elsewhere. Within a formal structure there is a place for common sense judgments and a balanced, measured approach. This review is an excellent opportunity to examine what is meant by common sense.
Where there are real risks there must be effective health and safety management. This will invariably involve audit, information, training and review. One such real risk in the education sector is the risk to all school occupants arising from the presence of asbestos. All the school staff unions are campaigning for a full assessment into the risks to teachers, support staff and children from the dangers of asbestos in schools. Whilst it is wrong to focus on remote risks, where there is a real risk steps have to be taken to ensure safety.
We look forward to seeing the outcome of your review and we stand ready to assist you further.
Voice: the union for education professionals
2 St James’ Court
General Secretary Philip Parkin
Tel: 01332 372337