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Risk assessments

The Field Studies Council has published the following advice with regard to risk assessment for field visits.

Risk assessment is the fundamental tool to ensure safety is effectively managed. The purpose of the Risk Assessment process is to identify hazards; assess who may be harmed and how; and manage the hazards through safe systems of work.

In line with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, centres should follow five steps to risk assessment:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. Record your findings and implement them
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

The likelihood and severity of the hazard occuring can be scored numerically (one equals low, five equals high), with resultant risk being assessed as:

  • More than 10 - Take immediate action to either remove or control the risk, for example a less risky option, prevent access to the hazard
  • Eight to 10 - Inform people of the risk and look at ways of reducing it
  • Less than eight - Monitor the situation more closely and aim to reduce risk over longer term

All significant findings should be documented and periodically updated unless changed circumstances dictate an earlier review.

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Involving students in risk assessment

"Getting students to do their own risk assessments is a good way of improving their behaviour on trips. They are aware of the dangers and have thought about how they should avoid them. They are much more focused on managing their behaviour"  Geography teacher, London.

Alan Kinder, former Geography Advisor for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, shares his thoughts on involving students in risk assessment.

One of the key questions schools now have to ask themselves (and inspectors need to verify) is: ‘How good is the personal development of pupils?'

This is the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda. One of the five aspects of ECM asks: ‘Do learners adopt safe practices and a healthy lifestyle?'

In my support work with teachers, we therefore begin to tease out questions such as:

  • Do pupils have opportunities for working outside the classroom?
  • Do they have opportunities to plan for this work?
  • Do they have opportunities to consider some of the risks and hazards that might be involved? In particular environments? With particular pieces of equipment? In particular situations?
  • Are pupils taught to become familiar with the process of assessing and minimising risk? (or is this aspect of fieldwork kept secret from them?)
  • Where pupils are given opportunities to do the above, do they exhibit safer fieldwork practices? Can they learn to cope with greater degrees of risk by managing their conduct and minimising risk?

Before the trip

In simple terms then, we might first involve younger pupils in assessing risk by showing them a photograph of the location they are going to visit (see example below). Give them a chance to discuss potential hazards and then refine these ideas as a group, correcting misunderstandings and introducing/summarising key aspects. Then go on to talk through ways of managing the risks - involve the pupils in risk assessing.

We might also introduce a piece of equipment such as a ranging pole. Can pairs or groups identify the dangers with using it and suggest ‘golden rules' for carrying and using equipment.

Older, more experienced pupils might engage with a more formal risk assessment procedure by completing a risk assessment template PDFMSWORD

Could GCSE/Post-16 pupils help to draft a letter home - outlining risks and suggesting suitable clothing and equipment for the day?

During the trip

Do pupils have a copy of the risk assessment in their instructions? Are the risks mapped so we can clearly see where they occur, for example particular road crossings or stretches of river, steep ground.

Do pupils have a role to play in risk management? Can specific pupils be appointed to be timekeepers? Counters of heads? Buddies for safety purposes? Enforcers of golden rules or assessors of rule infringement? It is, as always, amazing how behaviour changes when responsibility is given to the pupils.

Do discussions and assessments of safety, conduct and behaviour take place during the day? Is this a group activity or simply the teacher telling off and trying to enforce their rules onto pupils?

After the trip

Do we recognise and reward those who exhibited responsibility and ensured safety? Or those who demonstrated leadership?

Why not get pupils to write about ‘how we managed the hazards'? Or provide briefings to pupils the following year?

The overall philosophy here is obviously to take away the secret of planning and managing for safety. Pupils will need to show progress in this, alongside the academic learning that takes place during and after out-of-classroom activities. And teachers will need to recognise, comment on and reward this progress.

Lastly - none of this is to suggest that the teacher does not retain responsibility for the safety and welfare of pupils - nor to suggest that pupils should be put in situations of great risk. It is, rather, to suggest that pupils have an active role to play in this process.

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