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4 min read

Which secondary school subjects present common hazards?

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In our recent article focusing on the hazards presented by certain primary school classes, we looked at the dangers schools need to be aware of when it comes to subjects such as science and PE. We also looked at the risks posed by breaks and lunchtimes.

Expanding on this theme, we’ve put together the following guide focusing on the hazards associated with subjects more commonly taught in secondary schools, often as electives for older pupils.

 

Which subjects present hazards in schools?

As anyone involved in education knows, all lessons come with potential dangers - from slips and trips to the spreading of contagious illnesses. Clearly, though, some subjects present a greater level of hazard than others.

To monitor dangers across the learning environment, schools can now take advantage of online incident recording software to track and monitor accidents, injuries and illnesses. This software also allows users to create medical insights and reports, helping schools to spot patterns in incidents. For example, this can help with identifying the most common types of injuries suffered, as well as the locations with the highest number of recorded incidents.

Of course, all schools want to minimise the chances of accidents and injuries happening in the first place. With this in mind, here are three subjects that present common hazards. We outline the specific types of dangers these lessons present and the steps you can take to mitigate risks.

Design and technology

From woodworking and metalworking to product design and textiles technology, D&T classes can vary considerably. Here, we take a general look at some of the most significant dangers these lessons often pose, along with tips to prevent injuries and illnesses.

 

Injuries caused by unsafe equipment

  • Assess all equipment, including hand tools and power tools, to ensure they are suitable for the intended use.
  • Keep equipment in safe condition (and make sure you have full maintenance records). Ensure complicated machines are inspected annually by suitably qualified engineers. Other equipment, like basic hand tools, can be inspected by technology department staff. If any defects are noted, either repair the equipment immediately or mark it “Do not use” and store it away from the rest of the tools until it has been repaired.
  • Check that all machine guards effectively prevent access to dangerous parts.
  • Make sure your risk assessments account for the fact that young people might need greater protection from machine hazards than adults, partly because they may not recognise risks as effectively.
  • Give adequate information and training to everyone who uses dangerous equipment, and provide effective supervision of pupils at all times.

Injuries caused by lack of appropriate clothing/ PPE

  • Provide suitable personal protective equipment to students and staff for the tasks being completed. Examples may include eye goggles, gloves or hard hats.
  • Instruct users on how to wear PPE correctly.
  • Keep this equipment in good condition.
  • Make sure pupils and staff are always suitably dressed. This may involve removing ties or jewellery and tying back hair, for example.

Contact with harmful chemicals

  • Where possible, substitute harmful chemicals for less dangerous alternatives. For example, this may apply in the case of certain paints, solvents or varnishes. Where substitution isn’t possible, minimise the level of use.
  • Instruct users on the risks and safety precautions associated with harmful chemicals used, including immediate actions in the event of a spill. For example, it may be vital that a student immediately washes off any chemicals that come into contact with their skin.
  • Provide local exhaust ventilation where appropriate (for example, to help remove wood dust, solvents or solder/ welding fumes from the air).
  • Monitor dust extraction equipment annually, and keep records of this.

Cooking/ food technology

From burns and scalds to food-related allergic reactions, students can face many dangers in cooking classes. Here is a rundown of some of the risks you need to know about.

Food poisoning

  • Ensure students are instructed on the importance of kitchen hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water after handling certain ingredients, like raw meat.
  • Provide different coloured chopping boards for different types of food (for example, green boards for washed vegetables and red boards for uncooked meat). This colour code should be standardised and displayed clearly in food technology classrooms.
  • Ensure all food is stored safely and at the correct temperature.
  • Separate utensils and chopping boards used for cooked and raw foods.
  • Check use-by dates on food.
  • Ensure fridges and ovens are set to the correct temperatures and have appliances regularly tested to check they are in full working order.
  • Once opened, ensure food is appropriately sealed and kept only for the recommended time.

Food allergies

  • Ensure staff have had training on allergens and how to manage allergic reactions.
  • Provide ingredient check letters to pupils at the start of each term or year.
  • Make sure staff have a record of students’ dietary needs and allergies, including the location of their Adrenaline Auto-Injectors (AAI) if they have them. Teachers should also know where the school’s spare AAI pens are located.
  • Adapt recipes where necessary to ensure they are inclusive and safe.
  • Highlight key allergens in lesson plans.
  • Ensure staff check food packaging and labels for allergens.
  • Make sure that students don’t share chopping boards, cookware or utensils.

Burns, scalds and cuts

  • Ensure you have first aid kits in your kitchens, as well as a qualified first aider on site.
  • Make sure suitable fire extinguishers/ blankets are located in or close to your kitchens.
  • Provide knives that are an appropriate size and sharpness.
  • Keep knives locked away in secure storage when not in use.
  • Instruct students on how to use ovens, hobs and knives safely.
  • Make sure pupils are supervised at all times when using hobs, ovens and knives.
  • Check that all hobs and ovens are turned off correctly at the end of lessons.
  • Use flameless hobs where possible.
  • Ensure students are instructed on how to use heat sources safely.
  • Make sure pan handles are turned inward and away from students when in use on hobs.
  • Ensure pupils use oven gloves when necessary.

 

Computing

Compared to D&T and cooking lessons, ICT classes might seem relatively safe. However, there are a variety of risks that all education providers need to pay attention to. In doing so, schools can teach children useful lifetime habits for using computers to help them avoid future health issues.

Repetitive strain injuries

  • Ensure screens are adjustable for angle, height, brightness etc.
  • Provide height-adjustable seating that is supportive and comfortable for students.
  • Ensure pupils can use the tilt option on keyboards to help minimise wrist strain.
  • Check to ensure there is not too much reflected light on monitor screens. If necessary, adjust lighting in the room or change the position of screens.

Trailing electrical cables

  • Where possible, avoid the use of extension cables.
  • If these cables are used, carefully position the leads to avoid causing a trip hazard.
  • Use cable covers or ties where needed.
  • Ensure there are sufficient electrical sockets available.
  • Carry out regular health and safety checks of cabling.

Electric shocks or fires

  • Ensure all electrical equipment is regularly maintained. This includes scheduling PAT testing each year.
  • Make sure all electrical installations, inspections and repairs are carried out by qualified electricians/ technicians.
  • Switch PCs off when they are not being used.
  • Ensure students do not take drinks with them to their workstations.
  • Provide staff with suitable training in electrical and fire safety.

Whether in a computing, cooking, or design and technology lesson, being aware of all the relevant risks and putting effective safety measures in place will help you keep your students and staff safe.

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