Health and Safety Executive blasts university's ban on mortarboard throwing
A clampdown by a safety-conscious university on the tradition of graduates launching their hats in the air has been condemned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Risk of injury as a result of airborne mortarboards is "incredibly small", the watchdog said, adding that attempts to halt the practice on safety grounds were "over the top".
The University of East Anglia (UEA) had come under fire after announcing the photo opportunity would not be on offer to students this year following a string of injuries resulting from flying headwear.
Students will instead have to settle for simulating the hat-throwing act in graduation photos, with the offending mortarboards photoshopped in at a later date.
HSE's head of public sector Geoff Cox said: "You'd think universities would study history and do a bit of research before repeating tired health and safety myths like this one.
"The banning of mortarboard tossing on supposed 'health and safety' grounds is one of our most popular myths and actually appears in our top 10 all-time worst health and safety excuses.
"As far back as 2008, HSE made clear the law does not stop graduates having fun and celebrating their success in the time-honoured fashion.
"The chance of being injured by a flying mortarboard is incredibly small and it's over the top to impose an outright ban. We usually find the concern is actually about the hats being returned in good condition."
The UEA student union also raised concerns about the idea, suggesting it was unsure an unqualified ban was "the answer".
Student officer Liam McCafferty said that, although the union recognised the safety implications, it hoped students could still "enjoy their moment".
He said: "Given that last year a student ended up in A&E after a serious injury from the mortarboard throw, it's understandable that the university and their photography company have taken steps to make the event safer.
"However we're not 100% convinced that an outright ban on throwing the hats is the answer and we're asking everyone to work together to combine safety with celebration to see if there's another way to ensure students can enjoy their moment."
The university had justified the measure by saying it side-stepped "avoidable injury" and ensured the mortarboards are returned undamaged to suppliers.
A spokeswoman said: "The decision to not have the traditional 'hat throwing' photo opportunity for all students this year follows a number of injuries over recent years to graduates hurt by falling mortarboards.
"This is an unacceptable risk and we want to ensure no student's graduation day is ruined by the potential for avoidable injury.
" This has been agreed by our academic dress suppliers who often receive back damaged mortarboards, and our photographers."
The company providing this year's photos, Penguin Photography, said in a statement: "We normally do two photos - a formal photograph, followed by a mortar board-throwing photograph.
"For this year we were asked by UEA not to do the photo of students throwing their mortar boards in the air, due to safety reasons and at the request of the company that hires out the mortar boards.
"Rather than lose this classic photograph completely, we have offered to continue the mortar board-throwing photograph tradition by offering to photoshop the hats in afterwards.
"We have actually reduced the price of this second photograph in recognition of it not being ideal, although we have been misreported as charging extra this year and profiteering from the situation, which is completely false.
"We would much prefer to do these photos the traditional way but have to comply with the university's wishes."