School trips: Keeping kids safe

David McCabe discusses the key health and safety considerations for taking children on a school trip

It’s school trip time, but all you can hear in the background is people shouting “but… health and safety!”

Unfortunately, as a society we have become more risk averse in life to the point where opportunities, particularly around children and learning, have been suppressed by regulations, health and safety myths and political correctness.

Yes, we can never escape from the reality that dangers exist outside the school gates, and we only have to switch on the news to see that almost every summer a child dies whilst on a school outing. This is something that can never be ignored. But, when we analyse the statistics with, for example, 52 child road deaths per year (UK Government Statistics 2015), we must ensure we are keeping a proper perspective of the risks involved.

If we micromanage our children and wrap them up in cotton wool, are we really ensuring they are being moulded into the type of individual equipped to deal with modern day life?

If we micromanage our children and wrap them up in cotton wool, thereby not allowing them to experience challenges, hardships, negativity and the benefits of learning new skills, are we really ensuring they are being moulded into the type of individual equipped to deal with modern day life?

Yes, a child will learn in the classroom. Yes, we expect that children will use the classroom and wider school amenities to develop friendships, gain trust in teachers and have a safe place for learning, but outside this closely regulated environment we must be able to see opportunities for a child’s wider development. 

This is where a well organised, well managed and well risk assessed school outing or trip can be hugely beneficial. Any risk assessment carried out for a school trip should cover the main hazards involved, the specific people at risk, control measures to be implemented and actions taken. By taking these steps teachers will be able to lower the level of risk. 

The key to a successful school risk assessment, and a successful school trip, is to identify the key hazards and associated risks which are NOT easily identifiable. For example, never assume the worst cannot happen, and always ask ‘What If’?  

What if, as you make your way to the summit of a Scottish Munro without the correct clothing, communication devices or having informed anyone of your location or numbers the weather changes drastically resulting in fog, freezing conditions and reduced visibility?

What if, after a coach crash or incident you later find out that the company was not insured or the coach was not properly serviced or maintained (and you never asked for this information before booking them)?

What if, on the children’s ski holiday, there is a fire at the hotel, and you didn’t ask to review the non-existent fire plan before booking the accommodation?

Yes, in almost every situation we can attribute liability, but the key is never having to find yourself in that situation in the first place. Incidents and accidents will happen. Unfortunately, with human factors this will always be the case, but they more often than not can be managed in the moment. 

The key is to think ‘outside’ of the box

Carrying out due diligence on a company involved in providing a service for the trip is a good start. It may be simply requesting insurance documentation, professional body accreditations, previous accident statistics, safety and security information on the location or place of stay. The key is to think ‘outside’ of the box.

By ensuring the risk assessment covers the wider ‘What If’ hazards, as well as the day-to-day ones, we are not stifling more, or wrapping up in more cotton wool, we are actually providing a safe and secure system which ensures the children can feel ‘free’ and confident in an environment which enhances friendships, teamwork and leadership skills. And, by carrying out the more in depth work at the planning stage of the risk assessment, the teaching staff can actually enjoy a more hands off approach when overseeing the trip and activities. This ensures we still enable the child to learn and develop their interests, such as sports, music and science, in a different environment that challenges mentally as well as physically, but can lay the foundations for future life achievements and careers.

David McCabe is Health and safety manager at Law At Work

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