Health and safety rules to guard pupils against dangers of singing and spicy food!

Schools are being warned to follow new health and safety rules designed to protect pupils from musical instruments, singing with a dry mouth, spicy food, a helicopter landing in the playing field and other bizarre hazards.

By Julie Henry, Education Correspondent – The Telegraph

The guidelines produced by councils highlight a whole range of unlikely threats to be guarded against.
Headteachers are told to carry out “risk assessments” for scenarios ranging from a pupil injuring himself with a musical instrument, to a helicopter landing on school grounds.

Policies are having to be drawn up to meet health and safety diktats which are unnecessary, state the obvious or relate to incidents that are never likely to happen, according to headteachers.
One council has produced more than 70 risk assessment forms for schools, one of which focuses on “voice care” for teachers. It lists “hazards” including “throat clearing, failing to lubricate the mouth, singing in too high or too deep a tone, using a forced whisper or talking too quickly”.
It even advises against “hot spicy foods, very hot drinks and breathing continually through the mouth”, which it says can “have an adverse effect on the voice”.
Another authority has a 35-page health and safety code for primary schools which points out that hemlock and deadly nightshade plants should not be grown by children.
Headteachers said last night that the health and safety culture had gone too far.
“Schools used to feel under pressure to have a policy for everything that moves, now they have to have a policy for everything that might move and even for things which don’t,” said Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. “This guidance is produced by local authorities in the guise of being helpful but it is all about the transfer of responsibility.
“Schools do have to keep sites safe but this deluge of paperwork goes beyond that. It’s just too much information. These things need to be nailed down to sensible risk assessments. Time shouldn’t be wasted producing a policy on everything.”
Local authorities say the risk assessment guidance is sent to schools to in a bid to keep staff and pupils safe, as well as to protect officials from being sued if accidents occur.
The materials cover every aspect of school life, from what children eat to how long staff should spend on mobile phones.
Staffordshire County Council’s 70 risk assessments include “helicopter landing at school”, which identifies such hazards as excited pupils running to the aircraft and lack of air traffic control clearance. It says pupils may watch the landing from a classroom window – “provided the glazing is safe”.
A risk assessment on music lessons says that pupils must use a trolley to transport bigger instruments, and bans the use of drum sticks or percussion hammers without staff present for fear they might cause injury.
Guidance sent to primaries by Norfolk County Council lists the plants that children can grow and tells teachers not to allow the planting of “hemlock and deadly nightshade”.
Other common-sensical guidance includes a risk assessment produced by Herefordshire Council for school visits to parks, which instructs supervisors to “scan picnic area for potentially dangerous litter – eg used needles, dog excrement”.
Similarly, staff at schools in Northumberland with sand pits are told to undertake a “visual inspection” of the sand for any signs of “contamination”.
The Health and Safety Executive said generic risk assessment forms produced by councils reduced the administrative burden on head teachers but said some of the assessment, such as voice care, would not be expected under health and safety rules.
A spokesman said: “We want a sensible, proportionate approach. Some of these go above and beyond, such as the ones on voice care and mobile phone use.
“If you concentrate too much on trivia it can dilute the message about the serious issues. Health and safety paperwork can be thought of as a barrier to litigation but paper work doesn’t save lives, decisions save lives.”
Staffordshire County Council claimed it was simply adhering to health and safety legislation.
Ian Perry, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Statutory requirements are formed by Government organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive and Ofsted, which will fail schools that do not have these requirements in place.
“We provide examples of assessments to lessen the amount of paperwork for schools. This includes some specialist risk assessments which we don’t expect every school to carry out.”