Written evidence submitted by the Health
and Safety Executive (HSE) (Sch Sci 42)|
1. HSE supports completely the importance of
school science, and of the educational and personal development
benefits that science field trips provide for pupils. HSE further
recognises and supports the economic necessity of properly preparing
Great Britain's future workforce, and the role that science and
technology (S&T) should play in GB's future. HSE itself employs
a considerable number of scientists and technologists, and our
policy positions are underpinned by an S&T evidence base.
2. Unfortunately, some schools and teachers have
seen health and safety law as a barrier that discourages them
from organising practical science activities and providing pupils
with the opportunity to take part; or that health and safety law
requires them to apply overly bureaucratic controls that prevent
teachers running dynamic science lessons. We believe this perception
results from a basic misunderstanding of the expectations placed
upon schools and teachers under the Health and Safety at Work
etc Act 1974, coupled with related concerns about insurance requirements
and fears of teachers being sued if a child is injured. HSE's
interest is in criminal action (prosecutions). HSE does not investigate
or take action in relation to civil claims. This submission therefore
tackles the issue and impact of criminal liability and not civil
3. HSE believes there is no reason why health
and safety should stop schools carrying out science experiments
or field trips. On the contrary, we see the proper integration
of health and safety considerations into the overall delivery
of the curriculum as being both natural and good teaching practice.
It helps children appreciate hazards and risks, and learn how
to manage them - all that is required in most cases are a few
sensible precautions. Active and
experiential learning is widely recognised as one of the best
ways for people to learn so it is important that it is not curtailed
unnecessarily. HSE has worked with educational
science bodies over many years to establish and publicise what
those precautions should be and to ensure they are sensible, practical
and proportionate. HSE continues to work closely with those organisations.
4. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
(HSWA) aims to secure the health, safety and welfare of people
at work and the protection of people other than those at work
from risks arising to their health and safety out of work activities.
HSWA applies throughout England, Scotland and Wales. While responsibility
for education is devolved, enforcement of HSWA is a reserved matter.
Enforcement bodies drawing on HSWA may work across borders, as
do many schools and organisations that run school field trips.
5. HSWA places duties on those who are best placed
to control risks. It is simply constructed, with duties on:
in respect of the health, safety and welfare of their employees
(HSWA s2) and in respect of the health and safety of other persons
who are not their employees but who could be affected by the work
activity eg pupils (HSWA s3);
the self-employed for their own health and safety and the health
and safety of other persons who may be affected by the conduct
of the self-employed person's undertaking (HSWA s3);
persons in control of premises (HSWA s4);
manufacturers, suppliers etc of articles and substances for use
at work (HSWA s6); and
employees in respect of their own health and safety and the health
and safety of others their conduct at work could affect (HSWA
6. The most relevant element of HSWA to the health
and safety of pupils is Section 3. This places general duties
on employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees.
Section 3(1) states "it shall be the duty of every
employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure,
so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment
who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to
their health or safety". The primary responsibility for pupil
safety under this section sits with the employer of the staff
in the school (see para 15).
7. HSWA also recognises that a failure to control
risks may be due to the actions or omissions of another individual.
For example, individual employees have duties under HSWA s7 to
take reasonable care while at work for their health and safety,
the health and safety of others who could be affected by their
acts or omissions and, as regards any duty or requirement imposed
on their employer or any other person, to co-operate with their
employer/the other person so far as is necessary to enable the
duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.
8. HSWA is supplemented by specific regulations
designed to target risks in a sector eg construction, or across
several sectors eg radiation.
9. Additionally, the Management of Health and
Safety at Work Regulations 1999 make the general requirements
of HSWA more explicit. For example, the Regulations require employers
to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the
health and safety of their employees and other persons affected
by the conduct of the undertaking (this includes pupils in schools).
Having done a risk assessment the employer should identify the
steps needed to comply with health and safety law.
10. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
Regulations 2002 deal with the use of substances hazardous to
health, which could include substances used in a science laboratory.
For example, these Regulations require employers to ensure that
the exposure of their employees to substances hazardous to health
is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable,
adequately controlled (regulation 7). Employers are, so far as
is reasonably practicable, under a like duty in respect of any
other person, whether at work or not, who may be affected by the
work carried out by the employer (regulation 3(1)).
11. The legislation is generally goal settingleaving
the employer to determine how best to manage the risks that are
created. In schools, guidance setting out good practice is provided
by HSE, Local Authorities and other sector organisations. This
advice on compliance provides an important steer on sensible solutions.
The aim is that the organisation will determine proportionate
and sensible ways to control the risks that deal with its own
needs and circumstances. In this way the legislation does not
stifle innovation or impose burdensome controls. It leaves the
organisation choices about how to manage their own risks.
12. Health and safety legislation applies to
all sectors and phases of the education system, whether schools
are state controlled or part of the independent sector. It is
relevant to all the school activities and impacts on staff, pupils
13. The employer of the staff at the school has
the primary responsibility in ensuring the health and safety of
employees and pupils who may be affected by the school activities.
The employer varies with the type of schooland can be a
Local Authority, a Board of Governors or a Proprietor. While this
overall responsibility lies with the employer, head teachers and
the school management team have considerable influence in the
day-to-day running of schools. The local managers take on an important
leadership role for management of all the issues within the school
including the management of risks. Taken together these arrangements
set out a framework that teachers work within when teaching lessons
and leading field trips.
14. In the vast majority of case the headteacher
in an individual school is not the employer of the staff, but
as the senior local manager will have wide-ranging responsibilities.
A school leader's responsibilities for health and safety in the
broadest sense of the phrase exceed those requirements set out
in HSWA. For example in England the National Standards for Head
teachers, the OFSTED inspection framework, and requirements for
safeguarding and protection of children all include minimum standards
for a range of health and safety or risk management issues.
15. Under Civil Law schools and their leaders
also owe a duty of care to their pupils. The law of negligence
is based on a significant body of case law that has developed
over many years. Schools are expected to take all reasonable careand
in effect act in a way that a reasonable parent would act. Civil
Law is often cited as one the primary barriers to a range of opportunities
for children as teachers and schools fear civil action. HSE does
not investigate civil claims.
16. Most schools have good health and safety
management arrangements in place which complement the wider actions
in schools to promote the well-being of pupils and staff. The
approach to managing risks in schools are well established and
reflect sound management practices common across many other public
and private sector organisations. HSE expects schools to have:
objectives, policies and procedures integrated into the school's
wider management systems;
understood responsibilitiesfor Local Authorities, head
teachers, teachers, Governors and other staff;
to competent advice to ensure the focus is on real risks, and
to avoid applying bureaucratic approaches to risk management;
for involving the workforce in health and safety.
17. Good health and safety arrangements will
help schools to provide children with a range of valuable learning
experiences. It is important that schools aim to manage risk responsibly
and sensiblynot trying to eliminate it altogether. Sensible
health and safety means that children are exposed to well managed
risks, which helps them learn important life skills, including
how to manage risks for themselves. Sometimes things may go wrongparticularly
where children are involved in more complex S&T experiments
or field trips as part of more advanced courses eg in the sixth
form. HSE has only ever expected schools and teachers to adopt
sensible, obvious and widely understood precautions, such as wearing
protective eyewear when conducting chemical experiments.
18. Teachers need to make judgements about how
their science lessons are deliveredincluding making choices
between pupils taking part in practical experiments or whether
demonstrations by the teacher are more appropriate. These professional
judgements do not need to be made in isolation by individual teachersthey
can form part of the school or department's policy. However, such
approaches do need to adapt to circumstances. A group of pupils
with a history of discipline issues may not be the ideal candidates
for higher risk experiments where discipline is important. Alternatively,
demonstrating low risk experiments to the same group may not be
appropriate when a hands-on experiment would better engage their
interest. Such judgements are taken on a day-by-day basis by teachers
on many issues and this sensible decision-making should also be
applied to risk management. For example, HSE is more concerned
with situations where judgments are not applied or applied recklesslynot
when a decision simply proved to be a mistake.
19. Within some Local Authorities and/or schools
there is a tendency for managers, school leaders or teachers to
implement bureaucratic procedures. The employer may impose some
of these systems on schools. In other cases, schools may slavishly
follow a model risk assessment, giving no thought to whether that
assessment applies to the local circumstances. Sometimes this
leads to risks not being managedbut in many cases these
approaches will lead to schools going beyond what is sensible
to manage relatively low risk situations.
20. A small number of schools and teachers do
not treat health and safety in a proportionate manner. Essential
health and safety controls may be disregarded or dismissed as
bureaucracya typical symptom of this in science laboratories
is the retention of out-of-date or banned substances or poor storage
of flammables. Accidents during science in schools are rare, but
typically occur when there is no consideration of the real risk
and a diversion from long established safe practice followed by
most other schools. These are issues that can be managed by strong
school and departmental leadership that encourages and supports
innovation and tackles bad practice in equal measure.
21. Organising and running any school trip can
put a lot of pressure on teachers. Sometimes there are genuine
concerns about requirements and responsibilitiesbut most
trips simply involve everyday risks. There are some unfortunate
myths about individual teachers being held liable and personally
sued. HSE can only comment on perceptions about criminal prosecutions
as HSE does not investigate or take action on claims about civil
liability. In the very small number of cases where teachers have
been individually prosecuted, it has happened because they have
ignored direct instructions and departed from common senseby
taking actions that a rational person would not take. HSE wants
to encourage those organising trips to simplify the planning and
authorisation arrangements for trips that involve everyday risksand
focus their attention on how best to manage the risks on those
few school trips that have significant challenges, but which also
provide pupils with the extremely valuable learning and developmental
22. Many thousands of activities take place every
year in schools and other youth organisations. Young people take
part in foreign exchange visits, adventure activities, work placements
and a wide range of curriculum based field activities. Most of
these events take place without incident, the learning is immense
and the young people are left with memories of an enjoyable experience,
which means that both the enjoyment and the learning will stay
with them for a long time. The problem we face is that isolated
incidents get a huge amount of media coverage. The reality is
that they are rare events. There is little or no coverage of the
many events which take place without incident and the enormous
benefit which young people derive from them.
23. HSE has worked closely with S&T stakeholders
for many years. These important sector organisations have provided
guidance, risk assessments, case studies and advice to schools
that aim to encourage sensible management of risks in school science.
Two of the key organisations with an interest in school science
are CLEAPSS (Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the
Provision of Science Services) and the Scottish Schools Equipment
Research Centre (SSERC).
24. CLEAPSS provides support for member Local
Authorities in England and Wales. CLEAPSS works in the field of
school and college science, from foundation stage through to A
Level or equivalent. CLEAPSS provides general support for practical
work with information, advice and training about laboratory design
and practice, technicians and their jobs, equipment, materials,
living organisms and especially health and safety. This guidance
is well recognised by practitioners in schools. Some support for
technology, art and design is also provided. Guidance includes
model risk assessments, a laboratory handbook, specific publications,
guides and leaflets. In addition courses and workshops are run
for teachers and technicians.
25. One example where HSE worked with CLEAPSS
was in the development of practical guidance for the use of ionising
radiation in schools. Practical experiments greatly enhance the
process of teaching the properties of radiation in schools and
are important in aiding students' understanding of the subject.
HSE had input into the development of a good practice guide published
by CLEAPSS in 2008 that aimed to support practical work whilst
enabling schools to apply sensible and proportionate precautions.
26. A sister organisation SSERC performs a similar
function in Scotland. SSERC is a registered educational charity
which covers science, technology and safety in schools in Scotland.
It is funded by its member organisations (including the 32 Scottish
Local Authorities) and is part funded by the Scottish Government.
It provides a service for Local Authorities, teachers, student
teachers and technicians in Scotland and has a recognised lead
role in science education, providing Continuing Professional Development
(CPD) for managers, teachers and technicians. SSERC promotes and
supports safe and exciting learning and teaching in science and
27. The Association for Science Education (ASE)
is a UK wide charity promoting high quality science education.
The ASE is the largest subject association in the UK. Members
include teachers, technicians and others involved in science education.
ASE plays a significant role in promoting excellence in teaching
and learning of science in schools and colleges. Working closely
with the science professional bodies, industry and business, the
ASE provides a UK-wide network bringing together individuals and
organisations to share ideas and tackle challenges in science
teaching, develop resources and foster high quality Continuing
28. The Education Departments across Great Britain
produce guidance for Local Authorities and schools on a range
of health and safety issues:
England, the guidance produced to assist the planning of school
trips is under review. This means that guidance for schools will
be made leaner so as to enable a clearer distinction between what
the law requires and what is simply good practice.
Wales, the Welsh Government hosts the "Education Visits Guidance"
which was devised and periodically reviewed by Local Authority
Outdoor Education Advisors. Whilst minimising needless bureaucracy
was always a governing principle of the Educational Visits guidance,
in conjunction with offering the risk-benefit approach to learning,
a review by Outdoor Education Advisors is currently being undertaken.
Scotland, guidance is contained in the Scottish Government's "Health
and Safety in Educational ExcursionsA Good Practice Guide"
published in 2004. A recent review of this guidance concluded
that it was still fit for purpose. In addition, the Learning and
Teaching Scotland website has web based resource material for
teachers covering a variety of outdoor learning scenarios including
29. Slips, trips and falls remain the most common
cause of major injuries in every workplace. They account for around
40% of all injuries reported in schools. A total of 50 058 injuries
in primary and secondary schools were reported to HSE for the
five year period 2005-06 to 2009-10. Approximately 30% of these
involved employees; the remaining 70% involved non employees,
which includes pupils.
30. Risk from practical science lessons and field
trips can be put into context through analysis of accident reporting
statisticsparticularly taking into account the millions
taught science each year. In the five-year period 2005-06 to 2009-10
in the primary and secondary education sectors 478 injuries to
employees and members of the public (ie pupils) were reported
as occurring during science lessons. A full breakdown of the statistics
and explanatory notes are provided at Appendix 1.
31. Over the same five year period HSE has taken
29 prosecutions in the education sector18 in the primary,
secondary and vocational sectors. Of these, 16 have concluded
with a conviction. One of the remaining two cases is unfinished,
the other under appeal.
32. None of these 18 prosecutions related to
school science. Two related to school trips, but these were not
field trips, and three related to classroom activities, but these
were not science rooms or science lessons. Nevertheless, despite
the small number of prosecutions that are unrelated to science
there may be a ripple effect that influences the perceptions amongst
schools and science teachers.
33. HSE has promoted a very clear policy on sensible
risk management. Since 2006, HSE has sought to make clear the
importance of organisations recognising the balance between benefits
and risk and focusing on real risks rather than trivia. In 2007
HSE established the Sign up to Sensible Risk Campaign to combat
the growing number of myths that are undermining important health
and safety legislation. Local Authorities were invited to publicly
sign up to the campaign to encourage them to be sensible and proportionate
in their decision-making, their advice giving and their own enforcement.
This aimed to have an impact on guidance Local Authorities gave
to schools within their control.
34. HSE believes that risk management should
be about practical steps to protect people from real harm. The
aim is to achieve a balance between the unachievable aim of absolute
safety and the kind of poor management or risk that damages lives
and the economy. HSE has produced model risk assessments to ensure
that organisations understand what sensible assessment involves.
35. Between 2007 and 2010 HSE used a series of
cartoons called Myth of the Month to challenge the urban myths
so prevalent in the media and wider society relating to health
and safety. These misleading stories and myths can distract people
from the serious business of managing real health and safety risks.
The cartoons highlighted ridiculous "elf and safety"
stories that have featured in media reports, and gave details
of the real purposes of health and safety management. These cartoons
tackled a wide range of issues from the misuse of risk assessment
to the banning of events or use of everyday equipment like stepladders.
36. Monthly cartoons were targeted at the many
myths across education including:
boxes banned from craft lessons as they might cause salmonellaAugust
a pupil is hurt the teacher is likely to be suedFebruary
and safety rules stop classroom experimentsNovember 2009.
37. In 2009 HSE launched its new strategy"The
Health and Safety of Great Britain - Be part of the solution".
While the overriding mission of the Strategy was to prevent death,
injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work
activities, it recognised particular issues that needed to be
increased risk aversion in society as a whole; and
and safety increasingly being used as a convenient excuse for
not doing a whole host of activities.
38. The strategy includes a set of common goals
including leadership, competence and management of major hazards.
Also included is the goal to focus on the core aims of health
and safety and by doing so help distinguish between real health
and safety and trivial or ill-informed criticism.
39. HSE's efforts to tackle over zealous approaches
to health and safety, particularly in education, have been led
by HSE's Chair, Judith Hackitt. The Chair has attended conferences,
challenged stories in the media to put the record straight, supported
key organisations and individuals in their promotion of school
science, and proactively sought to encourage schools bringing
science to life through practical experiments and field study.
HSE believes all these actions are important to help encourage
schools to inspire and motivate the next generation of scientists
and engineers, and widen children's understanding of risk.
40. For example, in January 2009 the HSE Chair
worked with the Chief Executive of the Institution of Chemical
Engineers to encourage teachers to re-introduce exciting and engaging
practical classroom demonstrations. This was designed to promote
the IChemE's "Top 10 Flash Bang Demos". These demonstrations
encourage teachers to add greater practical focus to their lessons.
The chair took part in a visually exciting science experiment
to enhance the message.
41. In 2010 the Government published Common
Sense Common Safetya report of a review of the operation
of health and safety laws commissioned by the Prime Minister.
It makes recommendations for reducing unnecessary bureaucracy
and for the proportionate application of health and safety law
and identifies proposals for tackling the compensation culture.
HSE is working with stakeholders to respond to the recommendations
in the report in a number of key areasincluding education.
42. One specific recommendation is to simplify
the guidance and procedure for risk assessment in classrooms.
HSE has been working with stakeholders to produce tools to help
teachers understand the risks within their classroomshelping
reduce the burden on teachers by enabling them to focus on the
real risks and not divert them from their important teaching role.
A risk assessment tool was trialled between November 2010 and
February 2011 and, following feedback from stakeholders, will
be re-launched as a simple checklist for traditional classrooms.
43. Common Sense Common Safety also placed
recommendations on other organisations. HSE has established an
Education Working Group to oversee the development of responses
to the education related recommendations in Common Sense Common
Safety. The Working Group includes input from the Education
Departments across Great Britain and other stakeholders.
44. The responses to the education recommendations
in Common Sense Common Safety across the three nations
are likely to be progressed in slightly different ways. For example,
in England the Department for Education (DfE) is developing a
Single Consent Form to simplify the process for taking children
on educational visits. DfE will support this with guidance for
schools that aims to reduce the perceived bureaucracy associated
with organising school trips.
45. In Scotland, the Common Sense Common Safety
recommendations are in line with much of the work that is already
in hand to reduce barriers to young people accessing learning
opportunities that are beneficial to them. An Outdoor Learning
Safety Management working group has been appointed to report to
Scottish Ministers in spring 2011. This group is addressing many
of the issues covered in the report. The proposal is for a single
skeletal policy on outdoor learning safety that would be used
nationally by Scottish Local Authorities. The aim is to have a
simplified approach to outdoor learning which will reduce bureaucracy
and variation between Local Authorities. As part of this approach,
the use of consent forms will be considered.
46. Similarly, in Wales, barriers to enhance
and develop learning through realistic health and safety, has
been the mainstay principle of the Welsh Assembly Government in
its interaction and communication with Schools. The recommendations
in Common Sense Common Safety were accepted by the Minister
for Education and Skills, recognising the simplification of systems,
and the removal of needless bureaucracy. Work is currently ongoing
in Wales, including participation in the HSE led educational working
group to ensure a common theme is maintained.
47. While it is not a recommendation in Common
Sense Common Safety, HSE has offered to clarify how health
and safety law applies to school trips in a High Level Statement
to provide schools, Local Authorities and teachers with clear
messages about sensible risk management on school trips. This
will apply equally to science field trips. HSE wishes to encourage
all schools and Local Authorities to remove wasteful bureaucracy
imposed on those involved in visits and activitiesso that
the focus is on the real risks
and not on paperwork. The high level statement will make clear
that HSE's primary interest is real risks arising from serious
breaches of the law and that any HSE investigations are targeted
at these issues. The statement will outline the considerations
HSE takes into account in reaching decisions about prosecution
following an accident, and make clear that such action is very
rare. The Statement will provide a further opportunity to actively
promote the existing policy lines relevant to school science field
Reported injuries to employees and members of the
public (1) in primary and secondary education (2) occurring during
science lessons (3) 2005/06 - 2009/10p (4)
|Non-fatal injurymember of public
(1) Injuries are reported and defined under the Reporting of Injuries,
Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
(2) Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities
(SIC) codes 80100 "Primary education", 80210 "General
secondary education" and 80220 "Technical and vocational
secondary education". The SIC system is used in UK official
statistics for classifying businesses by the type of activity
they are engaged in. The latest version is SIC2003.
(3) A search was conducted of the "ICC notifier comments"
field in order to capture details of such incidents. The following
terms were used: "science", "physics", "chemistry",
"biology", "geography", "laboratory".
Any interrogation of the comments provided by notifiers is by
its nature an error-prone process. This is because RIDDOR notifiers
have freedom to express the details they supply in the way that
they feel is most appropriate. As a consequence of the flexibility
allowed during notification, it is very difficult to group together
specific incidents from the individual reports that are submitted,
hence there is no easy way of ensuring that all records are accounted
(4) The annual basis is the planning year from 1 April to 31 March.
Statistics for 2009-10 are provisional, denoted by "p".
ON RIDDOR DATA
RIDDOR data need to be interpreted with care because it is known
that non-fatal injuries are substantially under-reported. Currently,
it is estimated that just over half of all such injuries to employees
are actually reported.
Health and Safety Executive
6 June 2011
RIDDOR data needs to be interpreted with care because it is known
that non-fatal injuries are substantially under-reported. Currently,
it is estimated that just over half of all such injuries to employees
are actually reported. Back
DfE 2010 School Census-In January 2010 there were around 8.1 million
pupils (headcount) in all schools in England Back
The Courts have made clear that when health and safety law refers
to risks, it is not contemplating risks that are trivial or fanciful.
It is not its purpose to impose burdens on employers that are
wholly unreasonable ( R v Chargot (2009) 2 All ER 660  ) Back