We’ve seen the stories on television and in the newspapers about children banned from playing conkers unless they wear goggles or flying paper aeroplanes because they’ve been deemed too dangerous by the people at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We’ve laughed at them, and consider it a nanny state run amok. But the fact is that the incidents have happened. We want to keep our children safe, but where do we find a balance?
Some of the tales might be urban myths, but there’s a lengthy catalogue of incidents where the HSE has been involved to stop things – everyday events that have gone on for generations – happening.
- A tree swing that children had played on for many years was deemed too dangerous by officials.
- Models from egg cartons, something long used by every child and once a staple of Blue Peter, were banned because of the risk of salmonella from the eggs that had been there.
- Teachers were not allowed to apply sunscreen to pupils for fear they’d be accused of child abuse.
- A lifeguard instructor and her husband were prevented from taking their three children into a swimming pool for toddlers because the healthy and safety rules ordained that there must be one adult for every child.
They seem excessive, and they are. Many people, even senior executives, believe that Health and Safety rules have become overly bureaucratic. To most people, that’s not criticism enough. Many think it’s simply bureaucratic madness.
What’s to be Done About it
Children have played tag and climbed trees since time immemorial. It’s part of the ritual of childhood, growing up, playing and trying new things, and test boundaries. Part of being a kid is acquiring Scrapes, Cuts and bruises. At the time they can seem like badges of honour.
Schools have to abide by what the health and safety inspectors dictate. That decision is out of their hands. But even the head of the HSE has come out and said that at times his people have made stupid decisions.
You can protest decisions at schools and swimming pools, but don’t do it individually. Use an association, gather names for a petition if you feel the rules are restrictive or excessive. In view of comments by the head of HSE, you might be able to affect the outcome this way.
On a personal level, the best rule is to use common sense. Remember, too, that just because things have been a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean they’re the best way. For generations kids didn’t wear bike helmets, but there’s general agreement that they’ve saved many injuries and lives since their introduction. At the same time, you teach your kids the Importance Of Cycle Safety, and wouldn’t let them on the main roads until they were old enough to have acquired good road sense.
You know your kids better than anyone, and you can judge what’s safe and wise, and what limits to place on them. Children grow in part by pushing boundaries and asserting some independence. Coddling them too much simply isn’t good for their development. They need to run and play, to climb trees, fly paper planes and kites, ride their bikes or scooters and play conkers. If the regulations won’t let them do those things at school or in organised groups, make sure they have the freedom to do it at home.