29 November 2005
Your article, How custard can put fun into science (29 November), quoted a survey indicating that 87 per cent of teachers said they had prevented students from undertaking some form of experiment or practical work because they thought health and safety regulations prohibited them from doing so. As the research itself points out, this is a mistaken belief.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has repeatedly made clear that sensible health and safety is about managing risks, not eliminating them. Banning pupils from participating in experiments is certainly not how we intend health and safety guidance to be applied. Exposure to well-managed risks is good for education, and good for children in helping them learn how to manage risks for themselves.
There is plenty of straightforward advice on health and safety in science freely available to teachers. HSE helped develop guidance for the 'Teachernet' website (see appendix 1 [PDF 550kb]). Independent organisations including the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS) and the Association for Science Education (ASE) have also produced clear, commonsense guidance that helps make science both safe and fun.
However, if 87 per cent of teachers believe that health and safety rules are stopping them from allowing students to conduct experiments, then we and the rest of the health and safety profession need to communicate better. HSE is committed to doing this. We are already identifying ways of tackling the root causes of excessive risk aversion and welcome the NESTA survey as an important contribution to that work. We are determined to get across our vision of sensible health and safety, where risk is managed, not eliminated altogether.
Deputy Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive