Mak­ing schools safe

Ac­ci­dents do not just hap­pen, they are caused

New Straits Times - - NEWS -

NUR Afini Roslan of SMK Tuanku Abdul Rah­man in Gemas, Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan died un­der very tragic cir­cum­stances. Grue­some is per­haps the right dic­tion. A blade came loose from a ride-on lawn­mower and struck the 14-year-old’s head, slic­ing open part of her skull. She died at the scene of the ac­ci­dent. Two other stu­dents were in­jured.

This grue­some tragedy brings to the fore­front, again, the need for schools to adopt good safety pro­ce­dures. Safety ex­perts have re­peat­edly re­minded us that ac­ci­dents do not just hap­pen, they are caused. The Health, Safety and En­vi­ron­ment (HSE) web­page of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Drilling Con­trac­tors puts it thus: some­body or sev­eral some­bod­ies cause ac­ci­dents. We agree.

When we look for the cause of an ac­ci­dent, we will even­tu­ally find out that some­body, some­where slipped up. The lawn­mower ac­ci­dent in the Gemas school is no dif­fer­ent. Many ques­tions will need to be an­swered, chief among them are: why was the ride-on lawn­mower on the field when stu­dents were there? If the contractor was given clear­ance to mow the lawn, why were the stu­dents al­lowed on the field? Was the run-on lawn­mower well­main­tained? Did the contractor have a good safety track record? We do not want to put the cart be­fore the horse, but an­swers to these and other re­lated ques­tions must go to form the lessons-learned safety re­port. The past is a good teacher, but we must not al­low a flawed past to de­sign our fu­ture. Oth­er­wise, we will re­peat­edly re­peat his­tory.

This not­with­stand­ing, lessons from a sin­gle ac­ci­dent does not em­place a safety cul­ture in schools. Or any other in­sti­tu­tions for that mat­ter. Cul­ture must per­force be in­cul­cated on a daily ba­sis by a planned and sys­tem­atic ap­proach. To sig­nal the im­por­tance of safety in the school en­vi­ron­ment, it must be led by the prin­ci­pal. Like the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer does in the cor­po­rate world, so must the prin­ci­pal. The school is, af­ter all, a work­place of sorts. The prin­ci­pal can, of course, be as­sisted by a safety of­fi­cer. Such an of­fi­cer can as­sess all the sig­nif­i­cant risks in the school and cus­tomise safety mea­sures to blunt them.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute of Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health (Niosh) is at hand to help, too. It has been run­ning an Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health (OSH) in School pro­gramme in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Hu­man Re­sources Min­istry and the Educa­tion Min­istry since 2015. Sadly, only 50 schools have par­tic­i­pated in the pro­gramme thus far.

HSE is a se­ri­ous is­sue and the schools must treat it as such. A school that has in place a HSE sys­tem will en­sure not only the safety, health and wel­fare of peo­ple at work but also those of the stu­dents, par­ents and other vis­i­tors. Nur Afini has left us with a les­son. Let us learn from this tragedy and make schools safe for all. An ac­ci­dent does not ar­rive with a bell on its neck, says a Fin­nish proverb. But, if we adopt good safety prac­tices, there will not only be a bell on the neck of the ac­ci­dent, it will chime a safety warn­ing, too.

The past is a good teacher, but we must not al­low a flawed past to de­sign our fu­ture.

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