Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Going too far with risk assessment?

Teachers are supposed to be 'in loco parentis' but apparently at least one local authority believes that the reverse also is true. When a self-employed father who worked from home proposed that his son be placed with him for work experience, the local authority asked for the home to be risk assessed and for the father to take out public liability insurance. In this case who exactly is responsible for the student?

The thinking appears to be as follows. If a school or college is responsible for students during a period of work experience or the school/college has organised the work experience as part of its programme, there is a responsibility to ensure that if there is an injury to the student or someone else or damage to property, the employer is adequately insured.

The question is, who has that responsibility? For example, if a student had an injury which was caused by the negligence of the employer, then the insurance would cover the compensation. If the father as employer had such insurance, the child might sue the father, as employer, for the injury.

If there was no cover, the school might possibly have some liability for sending the student into potentially dangerous circumstances without ensuring that there was adequate cover to compensate the child in case of injury. So it would seem that the local authority concerned was not entirely ridiculous, and that the mockery that it received was not deserved.

However, the stories about requiring the use of eye protection when using Blu-Tack and the three-page safety guide to using a glue stick do come under the 'going too far' heading of health and safety.

Under the principles of risk assessment, the issue is not that a hypothetical danger might exist and that the consequences might possibly be grave. The issue is whether it is likely. If not, it is a low risk and excessive attention to low risks can dull attention to the ones that really matter. Hopefully, no ASCL member will tumble into that trap.

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