LETTER: School route needs risk assessment
In recent months I have learned something about the procedure used by local authorities to access whether a route is ‘available’ to be walked by children to and from school.
I held responsibility for safety in industry for 35 years, I could not help comparing the requirements for walked routes in the workplace with those for children walking to school.
I concluded that the risks considered to be acceptable for children walking to school could well be rated as unacceptably high in a workplace risk assessment.
For example, if your employees were required to walk along narrow footways, without barriers and in a very poor state of repair, with many of the passing vehicles exceeding the speed limit and some larger vehicles mounting the footway itself, you could very soon be faced with difficult questions by the workplace safety representative.
You might also be the recipient of a legally binding improvement notice or even a prohibition notice from the safety regulator, effective immediately. These are exactly the conditions on the route from Perton to Codsall High School, judged by a county council to be ‘available, accompanied as necessary’ to be walked by children.
This is just one example of very many unresolved safety issues raised by concerned parents. So we have these remarkable double standards in which children are expected to walk to school along a route which, in my opinion, would be likely to fail a workplace risk assessment.
The criteria generally used by local authorities also takes no account of the presence or absence of street lighting, varying weather conditions or personal safety and security of children. Councils are desperately short of funds and there are many more competing demands placed upon them than they are able to satisfy.
I fully appreciate they face severe budgetary pressures when considering whether meaningful support can be allocated for school transport for children living within three miles of their school.
But this does not set the matter right when there are real and potentially very serious safety issues involved.
In my opinion, the fact that a walked route to school is classified as ‘available’ by a local authority does not necessarily mean that it is safe for use by children, because the basis of the assessment is limited and the conclusions reached may be questionable on grounds of safety, as highlighted in the example which I have given.
The route has been assessed twice using national guidance laid down for all local authorities to follow. The route is safe to use from a road safety perspective provided pedestrians act reasonably.
Councillor Philip White
Staffordshire County Council
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