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Educational Visits - Good Practice, Risks and Hazards
by Paddy Swan
Horror stories about British teachers taking Educational
Visits and then being prosecuted for deaths seem always to
be with us.
We have some 60,000 schools in the UK and if each school
only does one educational visit a year this is still a lot
of visits. By the law of averages something will go wrong
somewhere sometime, but there have been about 4 prosecutions
of teachers over the last almost ten years. That is to say
that out of probably 1 million educational visits about 4
teachers have been prosecuted and only 3 have been found
Manslaughter by gross negligence has been the charge which
has made UK teachers’ blood run cold and led one of our
teacher Unions to circularise all members with advice on
The fact of the matter is that no teacher has ever been
prosecuted for following good practice and good practice for
educational visits has been laid out by the DfES and
published in Guidance on their website, The Health and
Safety Executive as regulators of UK health and safety have
referred to this Guidance and thus given their imprimatur to
what good practice actually is.
This article is about the underlying principles to put in
place good practice when a visit needs to be organised.
The key thing for any school to do is to ensure that a
competent Group Leader or Educational Visit Co-ordinator is
appointed. They need to be by the Headteacher and Governors
in writing. They also need to be competent not only, to run
a visit but also, to carry out a HIRA (Hazard Identification
Risk Assessment) for any proposed visit.
A HIRA is quite a specific matter in UK Health and Safety
Law and terms and this article aims to introduce you to the
concepts and some of the terminology, as well as giving you
some tools to carry out a Risk Assessment.
Before any visit all visit Hazards need to be identified and
What is a Hazard?
Simply put a hazard is anything that could cause harm.
•Uneven surfaces when mountain or fell
walking, slippery conditions caused by ice and snow.
•Children standing up in a moving minibus.
•Children falling into water.
•Hazards specific to a particular activity e.g skiing,
swimming, or almost any activity or sport.
How would a visit organiser know about hazards on a
site never visited or discussed with an experienced
What is a Risk?
The risk is the likelihood that someone will be harmed by
On a visit, there may be many more hazards than you may
think and if you are acting as the EVC or as a single Group
Leader for a small school, you may not have personal
If you do not feel you know enough about a particular topic
seek competent help. A search of websites and links from
these can help you in this.
Steps must be taken to reduce the risk of any hazard causing
harm. This is done by removing or controlling the risk.
Generally it is better if the hazard can be removed and if
can’t be then it needs to be controlled.
For example, an instruction to children to remain seated in
a moving vehicle must be enforced, if seatbelts are not
fitted as standard.
The risk of children falling over if the vehicle has to
swerve or brake suddenly may be removed by the seatbelts or
reduced by controlling it by ensuring the children remain
This is a Control Measure.
The Control Measure is a method of reducing the risk if it
cannot be eliminated entirely.
If the hazard cannot be removed it should be possible to
eliminate, or substantially reduce the risk by providing
protection and isolating the person from the hazard by
providing protection e.g. a guard on a powered tool or
In other words, separate the hazard from the individual.
If separating the person from the hazard is not practicable,
the individual may be protected, for example, by wearing
seat belts in a Minibus.
The Visit Group Leader/ EVC will need to be aware of the
Hazards and Risks of the visit and will need to know how to
carry out a Hazard Identification Risk Assessment for any
visit or trip.
However, if you are unable to reduce risk to an acceptable
minimum by these means, you inform your head teacher
If you have not the competence to identify hazards and
reduce risks for a particular activity seek help - some
useful websites may be found through a simple search and the
DfES Guide itself goes some way towards identifying specific
HIRA - the procedure for reducing risks
•Identify the Hazard
•Assess the Risk
•Institute necessary Control Measures
The above procedure is known as a HIRA - Hazard
Identification and Risk Assessment and it is the one to be
followed when completing Risk Assessments in the Workplace
or for carrying out a Risk Assessment for Visits.
Is the Action taken sufficient?
You must train yourself to recognise hazards and take steps
to eliminate them or to apply suitable control measures.
There is no such thing as absolute safety, hazards may be
fairly minor, an uneven surface , for example, but the risk
may be high and the outcomes, especially if the risk of a
trip is at the top of flight of metal or concrete stairs.
In fact the whole UK Health and Safety law is based around
the principle that you and the employer carry out your
duties "so far as is reasonably practicable".
This means that the duties on employers are not absolute
duties and a balance has to be struck between taking
precautions and the cost of those precautions.
This is why the law is amplified by Precedents,Approved
Codes of Practice (ACOPs) Codes and Guidances.
One explanation of the words "reasonably practicable" is
that such a duty is to be applied as far as is technically
possible or feasible when weighing the risks against the
costs of taking the measures necessary for averting the
There is always scope for argument about what is and is not
"reasonably practicable". But it is a fact that provided you
follow good practice there is no need to fear any personal
responsibility as a result of an accident.
The hazard of death by drowning during a visit to the local
swimming pool could be a major one but the risk may be low
because of supervision and flotation aids and trained First
Aiders with expertise in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation
(CPR) on hand.
Equally, the hazard of tripping whilst walking between
demonstrations could be a minor one but the risk may be high
if children are allowed to run around in an uncontrolled
All Teachers need to know something about Risk Assessment
and this is one of the major points of this article
highlighting how to look at Hazards and Risks as applied to
educational visits and trips.
Risk Assessment for Educational Visits - General Procedures
UK safety practice is laid down in Policies, Procedures,
Guidance and Regulations which require Visit Group Leaders,
Educational Visit CO-ordinators ,teachers and their
employers to take the following risk assessments and control
steps. The Group Leader will take primary responsibility
for reviewing and agreeing these for the specific
Educational Trip and Visit for which they may be appointed:
1.Identify the presence of a potential hazard.
2.Assess the risk to health and safety.
3.Eliminate the hazard if practicable.
4.If not practicable, reduce the risk by separating people
5.If this is not practicable, reduce the risk by protecting
6.Provide colleagues and pupils with information about health and
safety risks and training in the use of control measures and
This can be easily summarised into a series of
Step One - Look for the Hazards
Step Two - Decide who might be harmed and how.
Step Three - Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing
precautions are sufficient or more needs to be done.
Step Four - Record your findings
Step Five - Review your assessment and decide whether you
need to revise it.
This is particularly important on visits
where conditions such as weather may change. This is
sometimes referred to as ongoing Risk Assessment, but in
fact it is simply a re-iteration of the review atge.
Hazards on Visits
The hazards for any Visit or Trip fall into three clear
areas which can be addressed to identify sources of hazard.
These are :-
i. Safer Physical Environment
ii. People/Procedures (Harm reduction/Incidents)
iii. External Impacts e.g Transportation or Weather
If you imagine a pupil on a skiing trip slipping on ice,
they may come to no harm, break a bone or, indeed, break
If a school bus has a defect on the brakes there may be a
skid with no casualties, a minor accident or a major
accident causing death.
We need to recognise that hazard outcomes are largely
unpredictable and we can only progress by taking a “loss
prevention” approach where we look at expected outcomes and
the numbers which are likely to be affected.
The important point is that identification and control of
hazards has now become a legal management requirement (cf.
Management of Health and Safety Regulations - Regulation 4)
and the types of hazard which we need to address in school
and on school visits include issues set out under the DfES
Guidances including Guidances on Visits- 1998).
For ease of approach hazards may be classified by the
following categories :-
Class "A" Hazard A condition or practice likely to cause
permanent disability, loss of life or body part (e.g. an
Many visit based incidents including road traffic accidents
and involving water based activities have been proven to
fall into this category.
A condition or practice likely to cause extensive loss of
structure, equipment or material (typically hazards from
fire, electricity and machines).
For example, flammables being stored incorrectly and near
sources of ignition.
Class "B" Hazard
A condition or practice likely to cause serious injury or
illness (resulting in temporary disability) or property
damage that disrupts, but is less severe than Class "A",
e.g. slippery conditions on a skiing holiday or a broken
tread at the top of the stairs in a hotel.
Class "C" Hazard
A condition or practice likely to cause minor
(non-disabling) injury or illness, or non-disruptive
property damage, e.g. build-up of clutter in a room being
used for teaching or as a base during an activity holiday.
Risk can be understood as the measure of Probability and
Probability of Occurrence
Once you have considered what could happen, you should ask
yourself "how often?" and the simple categories are :-
Frequent Probability Occasional
Probability Rare Probability
The notion of frequency will vary depending on the activity
and might be considered in :- • Number of People. • Hours
in contact with pupils or duration of visit Using both the
ideas of Hazard and Occurrence the following table can be
Minor Hazard - C 3 2 1
Serious Hazard - B 7 5 4
Major Hazard - A 9 8 6
Frequency (High) (Low) (Moderate)
From this table and approach a HIRA may be
produced which has an indication of seriousness of a
potential Risk and gives the Group Leader/EVC a method of
prioritising Risk Reduction.
Recording your HIRAs
The method set out in the previous section allows a set of
priorities to be drawn up and resources, financial or human,
Obviously, major hazards with high frequency should be given
the highest level of attention. Any item or area scoring 6
or above should be highlighted for specific attention and a
copy of the Assessment should be passed to either the school
EVC or the Headteacher on completion.
You will find Specific Hazard and Risk Assessment forms for
Visits and Trips contained within the DfES Guidance for
Visits at www.dfes.gov.uk.
This document gives fuller listings on the particular hazard
and risks to be addressed during planning for visits.
If it wasn’t written down - it didn’t happen.
Any staff involved in an incident should always make notes
or fill out an incident/ casualty report on any event
attended, no matter how minor.
Proper records will help you to recall the incident if you
are ever asked about it at a later stage. The responsibility
is greater if you have a role as a Group Leader or a teacher
first aider. attending an incident or a teacher
administering medicines to a pupil.
Records may be used in a court, so ensure that your report
or notes are accurate, factual, contain all relevant
information, and are based on observations rather than
Your role as a Group Leader on any visit makes it important
that all your actions are recorded, especially as these
actions pertain to your HIRA.
When preparing any report some general guidelines should be
•Use ink only.
•Any corrections should be crossed out with a
single line and initialled. Do not use correction fluid to
correct any mistakes.
•Sign and date the record.
•The information should be kept confidential, and should only be
accessed by authorised people.
•In any medical incident, a copy of any report,
especially of any treatment at site,should be also sent
to the A&E Department at the hospital with the patient.
A Final Word
A prosecution is only made in exceptional circumstances
where a Police and HSE Investigations show elements of gross
negligence so the advice to follow the simple rules of good
practice will keep you secure. Remember no one has ever been
prosecuted for following good safety practice.
About the Author
Dr.Paddy Swan is a qualified teacher with senior management experiencein UK schools and colleges. He has almost 30 years experience in developing some 100 Safe Systems of Work training solutions for industrial clients. Paddy is the author of School Basic Safety for Classroom and Support staff for UK schools and the Headteacher's Safety Managment Toolkit These may be seen at http://www.swaneducation.co.uk
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