Thursday 23 June 2016

Risk averse schools

The government keeps enacting legislation with potential for substantial fines for getting things wrong. The government then keeps being surprised when schools take a very risk-averse attitude to compliance with those rules despite ministry assurances that, so long as they're following and documenting sound practice, they have nothing to fear.

This time it's the Vulnerable Children Act
It has traditionally been a free and convenient way to accommodate students on school trips, but new legislation could spell the end for billeting.

As schools work out the best way to approach the Vulnerable Children Act some have canned billeting altogether because of fears they could be liable if something happened to their students, while others are police-vetting every parent willing to take in billets.

Principals say billeting has become a "grey area" for schools, despite the Ministry of Social Development saying parents involved in billeting are considered volunteers, making them exempt from mandatory safety checks.
Is this required?
Sandy Pasley, president of the Secondary Principal's Association, said exactly what was required of schools around billeting was a "grey area".

If a decision was made at a ministry level that it was critical to police vet parents willing to take in students then more schools would consider paying for accommodation, making school trips cost more.

Schools were asking for more guidance over the legislation as they came to terms with it, Pasley said.

Sue Mackwell, the Ministry of Social Development's national children's director, said mandatory safety checking did not apply to volunteers, and parents billeting school children were volunteers.

Katrina Casey, head of Sector Enablement and Support at the Ministry of Education, said the ministry had developed a resource that provided an overview of police vetting requirements under the new Act, and had held workshops to help schools better understand it.
Perhaps the government should spend a bit of time figuring out why schools don't seem to trust the ministries to behave reasonably.

Anecdotally, I've also heard of schools that have started using scaffolding rather than stepladders to replace lightbulbs because of the rules around working from heights.

Meanwhile, real estate agents don't know what counts as good enough for having taken all "reasonably practicable" measures to ensure health and safety during open homes:
Some open home registers now require potential buyers to formally acknowledge they have read a list of risks and hazards, will follow the salesperson's instructions on how to avoid them, and agree to closely supervise any accompanying children.

Christchurch house hunter Mel Street has attended at least 20 open homes since March and first noticed the beefed up health and safety rules about six weeks ago.

On two occasions she was asked to sign a waiver saying she had read the list of hazards - such as tripping on a laundry step - and took responsibility for any injuries she might suffer.

"I thought it was really odd, very much treating me like a child. It felt very American, cover your back and don't sue me for anything."
If you don't know what counts as 'reasonably practicable' as it would be judged after a freak accident by somebody who might be happier to throw you under a bus than to acknowledge that low probability events happen sometimes, and where the penalties are big, you're going to go a bit over the top in proving you did enough to avoid the risk. It is not hard to blame people for thinking Worksafe is unreasonable when Worksafe assigns $40,000 fines for not wearing a helmet on a quad bike.

One of the things I loved about moving here from the States in 2003 was the absence of this kind of nonsense. If the UN doesn't want Helen Clark to run things there, can we get her back as Prime Minister? This kind of thing didn't happen on her watch.

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