Tackling the health and safety myths
A large number of school visits take place successfully each year. However, misunderstandings about health and safety law can sometimes discourage schools and teachers from organising these activities.
See the high-level statement
To tackle some of the myths about red tape and prosecution, HSE has published a policy statement to encourage all schools (in both maintained and independent sectors) and local authorities to remove wasteful bureaucracy imposed on those involved in organising school visits and outdoor learning activities.
HSE's statement makes clear:
- that the focus should be on how the real risks arising from such visits are managed and not on paperwork;
- the need for a proportionate and sensible approach for planning and organising off-site activities;
- that those organising visits should simplify the planning process and authorisation arrangements for visits that involve everyday risks;
- that HSE's primary interest is real risks arising from serious breaches of the law. Any HSE accident investigation will be targeted at these issues.
If things go wrong
Where sensible and proportionate steps have been taken by a school and its staff, it is highly unlikely that there would be a breach of health and safety law involved, or that it would be in the public interest for HSE to bring a prosecution.
Prosecutions taken by HSE invariably involve a fatality (or near fatality) where there was recklessness or a clear failure to adopt sensible precautions. The fact that an accident occurs does not mean there was a breach of health and safety law if sensible, proportionate and appropriate precautions have been taken. Fears of prosecution by schools and their staff have been grossly inflated and are unwarranted. Such fears should not be a barrier to school trips taking place.
HSE statistics indicate that in the five-year period between 2005/06 and 2009/10 HSE has brought two prosecutions involving school visits.
HSE has produced a number of case studies to illustrate and encourage proportionate responses to the planning and delivery of school visits.
HSE enforces health and safety legislation in relation to school visits. The education departments in England, Scotland and Wales also provide guidance and resources for schools.
Over the five-year period 2005/06 to 2009/10:
- A total of 50 058 injuries in primary and secondary schools were reported to HSE. (RIDDOR data needs to be treated with care as non-fatal injuries are substantially under-reported. It is estimated that just over half of all such injuries to employees are actually reported.)
- Approximately 30% of the reported injuries involved employees. The remaining 70% involved non-employees, such as pupils.
- Slips, trips and falls remain the most common cause of major injuries in every workplace - and schools follow exactly the same pattern - they account for around 40% of all injuries reported.
- HSE has carried out 29 prosecutions in the education sector - 18 in the primary, secondary and vocational sectors.
- Of the 18 prosecutions, two related to breaches during school trips.