Everyone involved in teaching knows that school trips and learning outside of the classroom benefit pupils’ education, whether it is going to a museum, a show or engaging in other challenging activities. However, fears about health and safety can sometimes deter schools from organising such activities – concerns including anxiety about possible prosecution if something goes wrong, or apprehension about the paperwork that might be demanded for a simple trip out.

In 2011 HSE released a statement to help clarify the actions required by schools when organising school trips. The information in this statement is still as relevant now as it was then.

What do I need to know?

Teachers looking to organise school trips need to take a balanced and common sense approach to health and safety. They need to concentrate their efforts on the real risks to pupils and members of staff – not on producing excessive amounts of paperwork.

Any precautions put in place should be proportionate to the actual risk. Being overcautious could reduce the quality of the school trip and get in the way of the pupils’ learning experience.

The school should oversee the organisation of the trip. It needs to make sure that any precautions are both sensible and proportionate to the level of risk. Those involved in running school trips need to understand their role – and schools should check they are competent to deal with any risks

Supporting schools and teachers and helping them make decisions is an important part of this straightforward approach. For example, making sure any paperwork is simple and easy to use can make a big difference – particularly in encouraging teachers to get involved.

When organising any school trip, communication is vital to its success. The school and staff need to make sure any important information is communicated to the pupils involved – and it is also necessary to keep parents informed too, so they can make sensible decisions about the risks facing their children.

But what if it goes wrong?

Accidents can happen. But as long as schools and members of staff have a sensible and proportionate system in place to reduce the risks, it is highly unlikely that there would be a breach of health and safety law or that it would be in the public interest to bring a prosecution.

Fears of prosecution have been grossly inflated. The HSE statement reinforces this message and encourages schools to focus on managing the real risks. The truth is that these fears should not get in the way of pupils’ learning. When HSE has prosecuted a school it has been because of a serious failing. The most recent case in January 2013 involved a pupil who from a school in England who was engulfed in a fireball because camping fuels were not stored safely – a long recognised problem with straightforward precautions that were not in place.

Focusing sensible precautions on the real risks is in everyone’s interests.

How can I make it work in practice?

HSE has produced a series of case studies demonstrating how health and safety can support innovative and varied approaches to learning.

One example explains how a school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorderstook part in weekly trips to a park in Edinburgh to help the pupils understand and learn about the environment. Another involves a trip to a saw mill in Argyll and Bute– showing how trips to high risk premises can be safely managed.

The case studies on HSE’s website have something in common with most successful school trips. The school and the teachers understood the risk, they recognised the possible pitfalls, and took sensible precautions. That is how to make trips work successfully in practice.

To view these case studies and other examples click here

You can also view the statement released by HSE on school trips here.

David Bryant – Head of Education Unit, Health and Safety Executive