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Coping with risk and danger should be part of curriculum says HSE chairwoman

Published 27/03/2016

Dame Judith Hackitt said children were suffering under an
Dame Judith Hackitt said children were suffering under an "excessive risk-averse" culture in schools

Coping with risk and danger is crucial to a child's education and should become a key part of the school curriculum, the chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who has chaired the organisation for more than eight years, said that children were suffering under an "excessive risk-averse" culture in schools, which was stifling their readiness for the real world.

She criticised the growing health and safety culture in schools, which she described as "nonsensical", adding that children should be encouraged to climb trees and play games where there might be a risk of injury.

Dame Judith made the comments during a speech to the Royal Academy of Engineering, in which she called on schools to put an end to top-down "bureaucratic" behaviour.

"Overprotective parents and risk-averse teachers who do not enable children to learn to handle risk will lead to young adults who are poorly equipped to deal with the realities of the world around them, unable to discern real risk from trivia, not knowing who they can trust or believe," she added.

"They will be a liability in any workplace if they do not have those basic skills to exercise judgment and take responsibility for themselves."

Although Dame Judith's organisation has been seen to be too health and safety obsessed in the past, a spokeswoman for the HSE said that it "absolutely supports Dame Judith's position - one which she has held and campaigned on extensively".

"As an organisation we agree that children need to learn about the world, they need to be able to go out and play, instead of being wrapped up in cotton wool," she added.

In recent years, controversial safety precautions in schools have seen teachers ban pupils from throwing snowballs, while traditional games such as Tig, or Tag, and British Bulldog, are now off the playground itinerary in more than one in four schools, according to a survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Last month, more than 70 doctors and academics wrote a letter to the Government calling for a nationwide ban on contact rugby in schools, due to the risks associated with "high-impact collision sport".

Increasingly, the HSE has felt it necessary to intervene in individual cases, where it has felt that schools have made overzealous risk assessments.

Last year the organisation waded into a case at Hambrook Primary School, Bristol, when a blind schoolgirl was told by her teachers not to bring her walking cane to school for health and safety reasons.

The HSE said that the school had wrongly justified the decision through health and safety concerns, adding that "there is nothing in health and safety regulations that would ban a child using a walking stick in school, or anywhere else for that matter".

Dame Judith argued that such trivial risks were undermining her organisation's efforts to improve safety in dangerous industries, such as construction and farming.

"We had one school who told kids they could not wear frilly socks for health and safety reasons - fearing they would trip over," she said.

"We have reached a point where people expect to be looked after. We need to look out for ourselves and take responsibility for risk, not leave it to others."

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