Analysis of Health and Safety within Design

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Health and safety plays a crucial role in the teaching and learning ofdesign and technology. This is such a wide subject area that the focus of this paper will be to analysis the teacher's role within health and safety; the best practice for teachers within the classroom; health and safety within the curriculum. The purpose of the study is to provide myself with the background knowledge and guidance on safe practice across the range of areas considered to involve higher levels of risk with the design and technology curriculum.

My interest in this area comes from my background as a pupil who enjoyed the challenge and risk of curricular activities such as P.E, science and design and technology which are considered to be a high risk area (Croner, 1987). As a student teacher with 15 years work experience across many industries, I am conscious that the health and safety conditions within schools are considered to be behind those which we would find within industry.

Health and safety in schools has been found to be "seriously inadequate", a report has revealed. An internal audit conducted by Leicestershire County Council flagged up several areas of "significant concern" in a sample of six schools and two community centres.

A further report concluded health and safety was poor across the council's children and young people's service, partly because there was "no clarity on who holds responsibility for health and safety within the department. [1] 

"The government is committed to making schools safe and happy places for children and young people. Complying with health and safety duties is integral to this. "Evidence shows that breaches of these statutory provisions are rife." [2] 

As a student teacher I believe Liverpool John Moore's University has examined the importance of health and safety within our Initial Teacher Training and the increasing responsibilities of teachers to secure a safe environment for all.Health and safety should be at the forefront of any teachers mind as we are fully responsible for each student when they walk into the room and also other areas around school. This is more apparent in practical subjects such as design and technology, science andP.E.

Teaching safety

We as teachers have a responsibility to comply with the QCA and HSE health and safety teaching requirements to teach students and develop a culture of health and safety. When working with tools, equipment and materials, in practical activities and in different environments, including those that are unfamiliar, students should be taught:

About hazards, risk and risk control;

To recognise hazards, assess consequent risks and take steps to control the risks to themselves and others;

To use information to assess the immediate and cumulative risks;

To manage their environment to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others;

To explain the steps they take to control risks.

Health and safety in design and technology has 3 main areas including:

General health and safety in and around the working environment;

Specific safety requirements for certain activities, processes, techniques and equipment;

Health& safety related to the products that are designed & made in school by students/staff.


It is the legal and moral responsibility of the school management to provide safe and healthy working conditions for its staff and students. The aims should be to avoid unnecessary risks and to enable the students and staff to work in a sensible, safe and confident manner. This relates to the Children Act 1989 and the duty of a person with care for a child to do all that is reasonable, in the circumstances, to safeguard or promote the child's welfare and protection from harm. To be effective, health and safety policies should be continually reviewed, developed and improved. Design and technology departments need to have their own health and safety policy as part of this process.


In design and technology work areas there are risks and hazards. therefore it is important to give careful attention to levels of competency of employees and to safety training as well as accident prevention. Health and safety aspects that need to be cultivated into procedures to include safe and hygienic routines, safe storage of materials and hazardous substances, safe and correct use of machine and hand tools, appropriate techniques in shaping and manipulating materials, consideration for others and a sense of responsibility. It is important to emphasise that because of their inexperience students often require close and at times direct supervision. Head teachers, as day to day managers, have a legal duty to satisfy the health and safety legislation that applies to their premises and to student's activities.

National Curriculum

The formal curriculum focuses upon how children acquire certain design skills and technical competence in making items. This curriculum explicitly requires children to gain knowledge and understanding in health and safety for example, at KS1:

...simple knowledge and understanding of health and safety, as consumers and when working with materials and components, including; considering the hazards and risks in their activities; following simple instructions to control risk to themselves...

Also KS2:

...recognise hazards to themselves and to others in a range of products, activities and environments; assessing risks to themselves and to others; taking action to control these risks... [3] 

And also KS3 and KS4:

...When working with tools, equipment and materials, in practical activities and in different environments, including those that are unfamiliar, pupilsshould be taught:

a) About hazards, risks and risk control,

b) To recognise hazards, assess consequent risks and take stepsto control the risks to themselves and others,

c) To use information to assess the immediate and cumulative risks,

d) To manage their environment to ensure the health and safetyof themselves and others,

e) To explain the steps they take to control risks. [4] 

It is particularly important that as teachers we are aware of the responsibilities regarding health and safety and ensure that pupils act safely, within acceptable boundaries. This is easier said than actually achieving keeping on top of constantly changing regulations and policy's is very time consuming and sometimes very confusing. With information coming from so many different government departments and then each local authority stamps their own opinion of these regulations and policies it is very easy to get lost in the amount of data / information about health and safety.

Findings from existing literature

Existing literature focuses upon the teaching of health and safety and prevention through risk assessments. The introduction of legislation into departmental policies and the best practice to teach health and safety within the classroom are also heavily documented. I have found the issues below to be the most interesting and important with the current changing face of D&T. Design and technology is turning away from the crafting skills and turning more to technology.

The Department of Education and Skills have looked and published guidance on how to teach health and safetywithin schools. The department advice is to take a positive approach.

Although safety education inevitably includes negative messages,concentrating on 'what not to do' leads to an emphasis on knowledge, ratherthan skills. It has been shown that knowledge alone does not result in safer behaviour.

A more successful approach encourages pupils to recognise what they alreadydo to keep themselves and others safe, challenges their attitudes to safety andhelps them to develop relevant skills of hazard recognition, risk assessmentand risk management. [5] 

Schools which encourage pupils' involvement in risk assessment and rule making, rather than imposing rules, also demonstrate a positive approach. The issues of health, safety and risk are amongst the most important schools will ever communicate to pupils. However, the language used to describe these technical issues is complex and full of potential misunderstandings.

"For example 'risky' does not have the same meaning as 'dangerous', yetresearch has shown that pupils of primary school age do equate risk withdanger. Similarly, research with teenagers and adults shows that the meaningof risk for this age group is strongly associated with anti-authoritarianbehaviour.

These differences make risk a difficult concept to teach. For example, if adultstry to explain risk using alternative words such as danger, they will reinforcethe younger pupils' misunderstanding - and adopt a negative approach whichmay encourage teenagers to try the activity they hope to discourage. [6] 

Gold and Szemerenyi (1997) recognise the difficulties facing all those who work with children, when they state that the problem is that children are endlessly inventive, and the ways in which an accident can arise are limitless. If we add to this the recognition that most children are unpredictable and do not always behave as expected, accidents will continue to happen. But apart from these elements outside of our control and bad luck, there is much we can do to avoid accidents. We can clearly examine and learn from the accidents, experiences and mistakes and good practice of others. In doing this we recognise the importance of reality and how it can be used to develop teacher's awareness through in-serve training and thereby inform future practice.

Another issue of health and safety within design and technology is the influence that the'compensation culture' is having upon the way in which the curriculum / subject is being taught.

So if taking risks is part of growing up, can parents really blame schools for accidents involving their children? Are we, as a society, simply seeking to make a claim when things go wrong?

According to foulsham the number of cases involving schools in the UK has increased in recent years - particularly as a number of high profile incidents have attracted media attention. [7] 

The news article below states how some schools are failing to reduce their class size down to 20 students as recommended by DATA. But this is only a recommendation and a legislation which would make a world of difference for teachers of design and technology in an increasing percentage of schools.

Research presented to the Association of teachers and Lecturers stated that "Crafts such as woodwork and metalwork are being squeezed out of schools by health and safety fears.Teachers are turning to safer activities, rather than showing pupils how to use dangerous equipment in crowded classes" [8] 

There have been a number of studies and parents are concerned that schools are too concerned with health and safety. A generation of "cotton wool" pupils / children are growing up without being exposed to risk, experts have warned.

Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist who advises the association, said: 'Cotton wool' children are growing up without having been given the opportunity to learn how to assess risks. Children have to have bumps and scrapes to teach them what's safe and what's not. Children who have all elements of danger removed from their lives grow up to think they are invincible. This doesn't just affect the accidents they might have when riding a bike or exploring a river, but it has a knock-on effect in terms of drug culture and gang violence. [9] 

However, MalcomTarling of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) suggests that risk isn't necessarily a negative thing. "People do need to take risks, especially [as] part of the education process - you learn by taking risks - but those risks have to be managed. [10] 

The 'compensation culture' has raised the profile of safety through increased consumer awareness has led to the development of a more systematic and more restrictive approaches to the management of safety in schools. The greatest problem is in keeping things in proportion.

"A very narrow path to be trod between being complacent one hand and on the other alarmist. Straying in one direction will result in unnecessary disruption and wasted resources, straying in the other direction may result in disaster in one form or another." [11] 

Realistically it is not possible to remove all risk, but it is essential that teachers help students identify and take responsible actions and decisions for themselves.Removing all risk can result in a drain on already scarce financial resources, it should be realised that working with health and safety legislation should be efficient working and it is the use of common sense when using and teaching within these guidelines. The Design and Technology Association has established robust standards, guidelines and supporting documentation which aids and supports all professionals working within the design and technology field.

The importance of the right attitude

This is concerned with student's motivation and attitudes to their work. Know how to act safely enables children to form a constructive attitude towards doing design and technology. This can be vital in building effective attitudes towards the subject because it requires pupils to play their part in creative thinking and to get things right - safely. Motivation is enhanced by design issues being authentic, although this can be diminished by overbearing approaches to safety.

Design and learning can be rewarding. While there is pleasure in success, the ability to face disappointments also needs to be taken into account. Knowing when to stop working if things are going wrong is very important, because frustration and irritation are the precursors of accidents. With this mind it is vital that safely when fully engaged in their work. Realistic motivation is the cornerstone of good working practices.

Developing pupils understanding of safe practices

In developing pupils understanding of health and safety they should discuss and see things being used safely. The first hand experience that design and technology education offers children is crucial in giving them a respect for, and confidence in, their own thoughts and skills. It also provides pupils with a set of workable practices, experiences, tasks and models, why people design and make things. Design and technology education is also concerned with imparting respect for the capacities of people to limitlessness of human powers of invention. At its heart are designing and making, and how to bring about change to meet future needs. This goal cannot be fully realised unless all concerned work safely, in healthy environments.

Critical Analyse this key issue what do you think.........

Reflect on personal experience

My experience of health and safety in school as a trainee teacher has been interesting and hopefully no different from anyone else's experiencestudying PGCE in design and technology. I have seen the health and safety guidelines given to us by the school on our initiation day. The design and technology department didn't force the health and safety policy documents on to me, but allowed or expected me to read them myself.

The design and technology department at the Grange Comprehensive in Runcorn prefer to give practical hands on experience. My mentor went through how he teachers the lessons and showed me how to use the machines and how he expects the students to use the machines. I believe that my mentor and technician have 30+ years working within an industrial setting and have become very knowledgeable about the machinery and a working environment.

The reason for my mentor showing me how to use the machines, was because each school has different one and settings also health and safety policies to use them. The machine maybe the same but the ventilation system will be different and the placement within the room and department.

The Grange Comprehensive in Runcorn offers a full range of activities for students even with the high risk associated with these activities. The techniques that years 7 to 9 are taught include;- casting, brazing and metal lathe work. My original personal opinion was one of fear to have to teach these activities as a trainee teacher. When I spoke to my fellow design and technology trainee teachersback at university, they also shared my concerns and fears.

Through my classroom observation of my mentor and actually teaching the metal work module my fear was not justified. Teaching the module having control of the way I demonstrated the use of the brazing touch and getting the first hand experience of how students react and understand the hazards put in front of them. I believe that the year 9 group have a good understand of the health and safety implications and hazards because they have been taught them since they entered high school. If they had not been exposed to an increasing 'risky' or 'hazardous' activities and just expected to be able to instantly deal with high risk activities, the potential for accidents would be greatly increased. The respect and behaviour when in the workshops was not what I was expecting from observing them in none practical lessons.


One of the import issues is that of class sizes when dealing with practical lessons. The Design and Technology Association have given D&T department guidelines of 20 students for years 7-10 and class sizes of 15 for year 11 in secondary education, these are only guidelines and not legislation. These guidelines have benefited design and technology teacher's fortunate enough for their school to implement them. If this was made into legislation every design and technology teacher would benefit and have the confidence to be able to teach the high risk activities within design and technology and not shy away from them because of the difficulty in managing 30+ students.

Teachers could eliminate all aspects of risk from the student's learning experiences. This may help to ensure that while pupils are in their care they are not harmed, but accidents will and still do happen. Understanding why accidents happen is a vital skill which a design and technology teacher should learn and also read about. A hazard often needs to be combined with an unsafe action to cause aaccident, studies have suggested there are a number of similarities contribute to why accidents happen. Bad luck factors outside of the teacher's control; poor decision making and the reaction to the situation; Lack of adequate and appropriate group management, supervision and organisation; the over-estimation of the teacher's ability and competence; the student's sense of responsibility and over-estimation of their ability.

The teaching of design and technology in our schools is both challenging and an exciting experience. Best practice start from teachers who are knowledgeable about relevant aspects of health and safety. It is important to feel confident in managing and maintaining a healthy and safe working environment, this is so important for a trainee teacher or qualified teacher to learn. From being knowledgeable about health and safety,indentifying hazards, assessing risks and determine how best to minimiseor control such risks within an educational environment will become second nature.

Recommendations that will inform my future practice

Through my research and writing of this essay I have learnt not to be afraid of health and safety and to see it for the reason it is there. Teachers may feel our choice to carry out some higher risk activities are too constrained by these standards and legislations. However the purpose of this legislation is not ban activities but rather ensure they are carry out in a safe and efficient way.