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Risks and hazards

An obvious starting point to the process of developing risk assessments is to understand what we mean by risk.

The Institute of Risk Management defines it as ‘the combination of the probability of an event and its consequences’. These events and consequences can have a benefit (upside) or threatened success (downside). Our party popper can add to the sense of fun and celebration at an event. But, it might scare your dog!

Risks and hazards

The UK Health and Safety Executive define a hazard as something with the potential to cause harm, including ill health and injury, to persons or to cause damage to property or equipment. A risk is the likelihood of a hazard causing harm in practice.

For example, if your activity involves the use of craft knives:

  • Hazard - the craft knife could cause severe laceration.
  • Risk - unsupervised or inexperienced children may use the knife inappropriately or the knife could be stolen.
  • Mitigation - craft knives only used by the volunteer, counted out and back in and stored securely when not in use.

Risk assessment process

The risk assessment process is an important part of risk management. Risk assessment can also be used as a valuable tool for activity planning. The process encourages you to think carefully through all aspects of your activity, from set up through to clean up. They can help generate kit and consumable lists, for example if you have identified a spill hazard, make sure you bring the necessary clean up materials. In your review process, if you identify a piece of equipment that you consider to be hazardous, can you swap it for an alternative? For example, use plastic beakers instead of glass with younger children where breakages might occur. Some activities might need special disposal (such as microorganisms or waste dust) and advice should always be sought.

In all cases, you should discuss and agree safety and risk assessment considerations with the educator you are working with.

If you wish to do activities that involve potentially hazardous materials or chemicals, for example liquid nitrogen or dry ice then an excellent reference point for this is the CLEAPSS science website or the SSERC website. You may not be able to access these but the school you are working with can, so speak to the educator about this. They have excellent guidance on how to undertake practical activities safely within the classroom setting, notably the CLEAPPS Hazards, Lab handbook and Recipe book. Both CLEAPSS and SSERC offer guidance that covers food sciences, design and technology, and engineering in school contexts, covering the 4-19 age range in addition to science advice.

REMEMBER: in schools, the teacher has overall responsibility for risk assessments, so ensure you discuss any risks fully with them.

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This article is from the free online course:

Inspiring Young People In STEM: Planning activities

National STEM Learning Centre

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