Safety and risk make a happy partnership for future development

Play time is changing. In a modern age of technology and increasing safety concerns (as often reported by the media), children and young people are shying away from natural play in the great outdoors to immerse themselves in television and computer games.

outdoor play safety riskSome say this is down to the curse of a “cotton wool culture” where children and young people are failing to learn from experience i.e. gaining bumps and scrapes from building a tree house and instead are being “robbed” of this early key development by parents concerned for their children’s well-being. It is a fact however, that there are generations of parents and grandparents who grew up having fun outdoors, so what’s gone wrong?

The LASER Alliance, hosted by RoSPA, is committed to helping children and young people learn about safety by experiencing risk. Experiencing risk is essential in order to develop the skills to cope with all that life throws at them, whether they are learning to cross the road, helping to build a den in the woods or knowing what to do in an emergency. The Alliance was officially launched earlier this year at an event bringing together safety education practitioners from across the country – and the choice of venue could not have been more fitting.

Bristol Lifeskills became the first safety centre to receive accreditation through a new RoSPA and Department of Health scheme in 2007. Based at The CREATE Centre, Hotwells, it uses realistic settings such as a house, building site and zebra crossing to help children and other members of the community learn more about home, road and leisure safety. A variety of settings, resembling snippets of real life, help to stress the importance of assessing risks and dealing with potential hazards or difficult situations. The centre provided an ideal backdrop to the LASER Alliance event that attracted around 50 delegates who were keen to network with other members from across the UK. Workshop leaders and delegates representing annual safety events, schools, colleges, universities, fire and rescue, and police services, local authorities, permanent safety centres, driving academies, private and voluntary sector organisations and utility companies, help to reinforce RoSPA’s guiding principle that life should be “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible” through varied activities.

The new Alliance includes members of two former practical safety education projects – CSEC (Child Safety Education Coalition) and LASER (Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk). Members teach children and young people how to avoid injury by managing risk and in so doing help them to fulfil their full potential as adults.

Gas Safety Trust RoSPA

At the first LASER Alliance event, from left, ErrolTaylor, RoSPA's deputy chief executive; Dr Mary Benwell, a trustee and past chair of the Gas Safety Trust and Andy Townsend, general manager of Bristol Lifeskills.

Among the speakers at the event, where the LASER Alliance’s three-year sponsorship deal with the Gas Safety Trust was announced, were Errol Taylor, RoSPA’s deputy chief executive; Andrea Kennedy from Brockenhurst College; Dave Evans from Riskwatch: Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service; Ceri Kingston, from The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS); Sophie Hepworth from Wealden District Council; Dr Elizabeth Towner from the University of the West of England; and Julie Evans from DangerPoint, North Wales. A series of workshop sessions followed covering a range of practical safety education topics, which opened up a forum for debate and discussion. Delegates also had the opportunity to share experiences and pick up tips on how best to work together.

The main messages to come out of the day were:

  • The importance of gathering evidence to better contribute to casualty reduction and to use it to drive accident prevention campaigns
  • A move towards encouraging children to become more “risk aware” as opposed to “risk averse”
  • Working to help parents support their children to take more responsibility for their safety, by letting them learn by experiencing risk
  • Helping directors of public health to realise that practical safety education is crucial in the public health arena, by encouraging directors of public health to look at local accident prevention plans.

The National Trust has recently called on grandparents to get “housebound” youngsters outside, after a report commissioned by the trust found that the “roaming radius” for children has declined by 90 per cent over the past 30 years. Hundreds of professional bodies are calling on Parliament to tackle the culture of fear and frustration that prevents young people from exploring the world around them – and the LASER Alliance is among them. To generate debate, the Alliance is calling on as many MPs as possible to put their name to Early Day Motion (EDM) 1954. More than 150 MPs have already signed-up, but the campaign needs at least 50 more to make an impact. It is part of the wider “Free Range Kids” initiative, which is being spearheaded by Sustrans, which is also a member of the Alliance. If we’re serious about future generations of independent young people getting out and about with knowledge and confidence, then constraints should be cut to allow them to walk, cycle and play outside, benefiting children’s health in the process.

LASER Alliance practial safety education

The LASER Alliance aims to lead the way in practical safety education.

 The LASER Alliance aims to lead the way in practical safety education. It has a network of regional champions based across the UK who promote the Ten Principles of Effective Safety Education, which underpin the alliance’s definition of high quality practical safety education, and contribute to the LASER Alliance’s policy making process.  

Organisations working with children and young people that are interested in joining, should email cfrancis@rospa.com. For more information on joining the LASER Alliance, visit www.lasersafety.org.uk/join/.

Cassius Francis, LASER Alliance Co-ordinator and RoSPA’s Youth Liaison Worker

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