As reported in the UK Daily Telegraph, the head of the UK Health and Safety Executive, Judith Hackitt, has publicly stated that kids must be allowed to learn about risk in order to lead a normal life and be less naive about risk when they get out into the real world.
In response to concerns from parents and real safety people in recent years about the HSE promoting risk aversion and the over zealous misuse of “safety” in schools, she is quoted as saying:
- “Children should not be wrapped in cotton wool and must be allowed to play, fall over and hurt themselves….it is not good for society to over protect young children”
- “I worry about how they will behave once they are in the workplace. It will increasingly become an issue in the next few years”.
- “They need to be able to live ordinary lives. They should be able to play, fall over and hurt themselves.”
- “It is not good for them as members of society, to be overprotected. When they join the workplace it will be very hard for employers to deal with them.”
- “What people sometimes hide behind when they misuse the health and safety term is the fear of being sued and no one wants to take responsibility for their actions.”
This is by no means breaking news or an amazing revelation, in fact, as far back as September 2012, HSE launched a joint statement (see it here) with Play Safety Forum to address misunderstandings about what the law requires when attempting to ban leisure and play activities.
SO WHY HAS THE STATEMENT BEEN IGNORED?
The 2012 statement made it clear that:
- Proper play is crucial for the well being and development of children
- The goal should not be to eliminate risk, but to carefully consider the risks and benefits when planning
- the focus should not be on paperwork but on the real risks
- The fear of litigation from normal play accidents and mistakes occurring has been over exaggerate
The statement encourages “Striking the right balance between protecting children from the most serious risks and allowing them to reap the benefits of play”. Striking the right balance is defined in the statement by:
Striking the right balance does mean:
- Weighing up risks and benefits when designing and providing play opportunities and activities
- Focussing on and controlling the most serious risks, and those that are not beneficial to the play activity or foreseeable by the user
- Recognising that the introduction of risk might form part of play opportunities and activity
- Understanding that the purpose of risk control is not the elimination of all risk, and so accepting that the possibility of even serious or life-threatening injuries cannot be eliminated, though it should be managed
- Ensuring that the benefits of play are experienced to the full
Striking the right balance does not mean:
- All risks must be eliminated or continually reduced
- Every aspect of play provision must be set out in copious paperwork as part of a misguided security blanket
- Detailed assessments aimed at high-risk play activities are used for low-risk activities
- Ignoring risks that are not beneficial or integral to the play activity, such as those introduced through poor maintenance of equipment
- Mistakes and accidents will not happen
Knowing that concepts such as this do not sit well with all in the safety fraternity, we consulted well known Safety Crusader, Barry Spud, and asked him for his thoughts on the Telegraph article in regards to not wrapping kids in cotton wool. He told us:
“I totally concur with the premise of the newspaper article – wrapping kids in cotton wool should be banned! Anybody who knows safety and the Act as well as I do knows that a small percentage of kids are allergic to cotton. A small percentage is infinity times greater than Zero so this practice must be banned. Natural cotton contains allergens and by the time they bleach it and treat it with formaldehyde it becomes a very hazardous material. Therefore, the only approved way to shield kids from exposure to risk is to wrap them in hypoallergenic bubble wrap.
If you want to expose kids to any risk at all then you must want them to get badly injured. Its so true what Ms Hackitt says about preparation for the real world – when they are told at an early age that they must avoid or eliminate all risks this will make it much easier for safety people like myself to control them at work. ”.
Sighhhh……the tide is definitely turning, but very slowly…………