Child accidents at school increasingly common
There has been a rise in the number of child accidents at school in the UK over the past year, particularly among primary school children. This HSE report comes at a time when child safety is being debated, in terms of how many restrictions schools should impose in the name of child safety.
Children are just as likely to suffer injuries in an accident at school as they are from an accident in the home. Recently published data from the Health and Safety Executive illustrates the increasingly high proportion of accidents at school, particularly amongst primary school children. Although such accidents tend to be slight, rather than severe, the occurrence of such accidents has led to many teachers becoming extremely wary about child safety. At the same time, there is growing concern amongst campaign groups that children are being ‘wrapped in cotton wool,’ leading to calls for the health and safety law to be interpreted more pragmatically within schools.
According to statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), between 2005 and 2010 there were 35,041 reported accidents involving children. In reality, the number of accidents is probably higher, as non-fatal accidents are significantly under-reported. Slips, trips and falls are the most common accidents, constituting 40% of all reported injuries. Accidents are mostly likely to occur during break times and PE lessons.
The increasing number of accidents in schools has had a serious effect on the attitude towards play and school trips. In a recent Telegraph report, it was discovered that one third of pupils in the UK struggle to swim at least 25 metres by the age of 11. Although this is partly down to uneven access to swimming pools across the country, one of the most common reasons for declining swimming lessons is fears of child accidents occurring in the pool. Many children across the country are thus leaving school without sufficient confidence or practice in water.
Concerns over health and safety have also had a detrimental effect on school trips, in both primary and secondary schools. Despite the HSE stating that only two prosecutions between 2005 and 2010 related to school trips, many schools are extremely reluctant to organise excursions in case an accident occurs. Although the government pledged in 2011 to cut down the red tape and bureaucracy surrounding school trips, this does not seem to have allayed many schools’ concerns about child accidents.
It appears as though the problem is not the Health and Safety guidelines themselves, but how they are interpreted and have been implemented in the past. Extreme stories often hit the newspapers about child’s play being compromised due to health and safety reasons; one story that was prominent in 2011 was the news that many schools have outlawed the traditional autumn game of conkers to prevent children from being hit in the face by a stray conker. This is despite the fact that the HSE has stated that there is no real risk from playing conkers or similar outdoor games. The HSE goes on to state that ‘health and safety is about managing real risks properly, not being risk averse’. The problem lies, therefore, not so much with the HSE itself, but with schools and local authorities being overly cautious in interpreting the law.
Campaigners have called for more pragmatic attitudes in schools when it comes to child accidents and child safety. Play England is running several campaigns encouraging the importance of outdoor play for child development and seeking to challenge many of the health and safety ‘myths’ that have cropped up in recent years. Although it is important that all real risks are taken into account and anticipated, this should not mean that children are restricted from outdoor activities and school trips. Finding the right balance between safety and common sense is something that must be achieved, to prevent children from becoming wrapped up in the cotton wool culture.