I wonder what my childhood would have been like had it been subjected to the curse of ‘over risk assessment’. I’ve been immersed in looking at ‘health, safety and security’ within play environments this week, because that’s where some of my learners are at in their studies at the moment. The problems of an ‘elfansafety’ culture (thanks for that sort of phraseology, Arthur!) can play themselves out in rather over-zealous risk assessment paperwork.
Whilst I do appreciate safety and children not breaking themselves, what the ‘powers that be’ seem to forget is the dynamic common sense ‘see-it-as-it-unfolds’ way of assessing if something is just too hazardous to take the risk over. What play environments’ policies seem to forget (or rather, what those who write these things seem to forget) is that children are more than capable of assessing for themselves if they can or will do something.
So, what might my childhood have been like had it been subjected to over-zealous application of paperwork? Let’s think . . .
That stream is four centimetres deep. On no account should the child go within eight feet of the edge, and only then with a responsible adult closely watching and only when that adult is equipped with a whistle, a clipboard, a first aid kit, and inflatable arm bands. The child should not be allowed to paddle in the water: there’s a risk of getting the feet wet, of picking up water-borne infection, of endangering wildlife, of contracting frog-lurgy.
Swings are not for jumping off. On no account must the child jump from the swing to see how far they can get. Swings should only be swung by two feet in either direction. The child must have both hands on the chains and their bottom on the seat at all times. The adult must push the child and must watch closely. Only play on swings equipped with standard safety matting. Promptly whisk children away from swings which have gravel underneath, cracked concrete, muddy grass (slippage risk) or cracked paving slabs.
Rolling down hills is only prohibited if an adult is watching closely. The child must roll down sideways and should go no farther than six feet, irrespective of the size of the hill (it’s for their own benefit). Before playing the child should be forced into compulsory hazard checks (using clipboards) for dangers such as dogshit, sticky up sticks, and sodden pornography. The child must, on no account, do a forward roly-poly down the hill.
Running downhill is strictly prohibited. Running through bushes, through alleys, around blind corners, up the road, on grass (slip risk) are all also strongly discouraged. The child should walk from one place to another to avoid falling over, especially when outside due to the huge amount of hazards out there. A responsible adult should remain no more than three paces behind the child at all times. The adult should be equipped with a first aid kit, a whistle, a walkie-talkie (this was the 1970s, you understand), a stretcher, a portfolio of emergency contact numbers, a rucksack of emergency clothing, bandaging, and first aid manuals, and suncream.
Balancing on any object higher than two inches should be closely monitored. The child should be made aware of the dangers of standing on one leg on kerb stones, standing on small walls, walking on small walls (especially knobbly ones with dangerous uneven bricks), and looking through the railings of bridges over the main road. Before play is allowed, the child should be sat down and instructed about the safety matters concerned with kerb stones, walls, and looking through the railings of bridges over main roads. The child should be made to agree an action plan of their intentions whilst discussing the ground rules. They should sign a form to say they agree to the rules and that breaking the rules is bad, resulting in them being whisked off indoors and sat in front of a nice safe jigsaw puzzle (see ‘risk assessment for jigsaw puzzles’, including the possibility of pieces being shoved up noses, getting stuck in ears, slip risk on floor).
The child should not bump or slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag. This constitutes a serious slip risk. If the child asks to play on or near the stairs, they should first be strongly discouraged. If an adult in close attendance does let the child play on or near the stairs, they should first recognise that their neck is on the block, and should then only allow such play if the child is wrapped not in a sleeping bag but in appropriate safety clothing. The child should be at least three times fatter than they are in ordinary circumstances. The child must be equipped with Velcro seating. Only two stairs shall be allowed to be played on. Only the bottom two stairs shall be played on.
The child shall not play on tables. The only exception to this safety rule is if the child is playing with a nice jigsaw or a nice board game at the table (see ‘jigsaw risk assessment’ and ‘nice board game risk assessment’). Playing on tables is a very bad thing if it doesn’t involve jigsaws or board games. The child must not be allowed to exercise their imagination in using the table for anything other than its correct purpose. A table must be used as a table: any other use of a table is a clear disrespect of the furniture. Disrespecting furniture is a very bad thing and should be punished by sitting the child on the naughty chair. The naughty chair must not be disrespected and should be positioned at the table (because that’s what chairs are for). The child should be given a nice jigsaw or board game to do, and to learn from, once they’ve calmed themselves down after disrespecting the furniture.
The child should not jump on the sofas or the bed (see above re: disrespecting furniture), turn the sofas upside-down (see above, also see ‘manual handling’ policy), or shove his younger brother under the upturned sofa and stuff up the ends with cushions (sorry to my younger bro, if you’re reading here!!) A responsible adult should be on hand at all times. The adult should be within breathing distance of the child (not within sight or sound only) at all times. The adult must instantly stop the child if the child even thinks about picking up a cushion (zip risk, getting caught in the eye; dangerous leaking stuffing could suffocate the child; cushions being bashed around younger brother’s head are obvious safety issues; slip risk of cushions on floor; disrespecting soft furnishings). The adult should suggest a nice board game instead . . .
I could go on and on and on. You get the point, I trust. I’m glad I grew up my way.