HEALTH AND SAFETY ON WOODLAND VISITS
Making a site reconnaissance
Although both this website and the printed education packs aim to give teachers the background information they require for a visit to the Heritage Woodlands, the importance of teachers undertaking a thorough reconnaissance before visiting any area with children cannot be too strongly emphasised. Teachers are also strongly urged to make use of the local contacts listed elsewhere on this website.
As a result of both their 'natural' state and their location, the majority of the 35 Heritage Woodlands do not have toilet facilities on or close to the site. It is worth bearing this in mind when planning the timing and duration of a visit. Morning or afternoon sessions can work better than whole-day visits for this reason. Alternatively, why not leave school mid-morning and return mid-afternoon, taking a picnic to eat in the wood?
Although access for all is a particular focus of the access work taking place within the woodlands during the Fuelling a Revolution programme, wheelchair access is not possible within every part of every woodland. As with many other ancient woodlands, many parts of the Heritage Woodlands are on steep slopes or have areas with poor drainage. The flattest woods are by and large, those with the greatest potential for access for wheelchair users. Detailed information on access to the individual Heritage Woodlands can be accessed from the location map elsewhere on this website.
The undertaking of a risk assessment is a vital part of preparation for any field visit by schools. Not only is the completed risk assessment form an important legal document but the process of completing the form involves giving careful thought to the potential health and safety consequences of the visit.
This section aims to provide guidelines for the preparation of a risk assessment form prior to a visit to any of the 35 Heritage Woodlands. It does not in itself constitute a risk assessment, but can be used as a basis for the production of these by schools visiting the woods. A risk assessment can only be drawn up by schools with a full knowledge of the numbers, age and capabilities of the pupils going on the visit. These guidelines should be used in conjunction with the general guidelines for field visits produced by your school and Local Education Authority. Finally, risk assessments should not just be produced and kept by school staff. Pupils need to be made aware of potential dangers and preventative actions both before and during visits.
Although the list of potential hazards below is a long one, it should be remembered that not all of the hazards listed apply to all of the woodlands and that most of those listed are either unlikely or of low severity. By being comprehensive, the list aims to ensure that all school visits to the Heritage Woodlands are properly planned and as safe and enjoyable as they can be for all concerned.
- If possible, carry a mobile phone and a note of useful contact numbers e.g. the school, nearest hospital, mobile phone numbers of other teachers on the site.
- Take a first aid kit and all necessary medicines (e.g. asthma inhalers).
- Keep hands out of mouths and wash hands (or wipe with antiseptic wipes) before eating or on return to school.
- Avoid motorbikes and horses encountered in the woods.
- Avoid overhead power lines and electricity substations if present at the site.
- A few of the woods border golf courses. At these, be aware of the potential danger from flying golf balls if leaving the edge of the woodland.
Journey to and from site
- Stay on pavements.
- Cross roads with care and in places with clear visibility.
- Stay seated on buses whilst in motion.
- Carry a list of all children on the visit.
- Count children at regular intervals.
- Agree an easily recognisable rendezvous point.
- Use a whistle to indicate your location to any lost children.
Falling, tripping and slipping
- Ensure that appropriate footwear is worn.
- Stay on or close to recognised paths.
- Take particular care on muddy patches, in areas of brambles, on steeply sloping areas of ground, near cliff tops or old quarries, and close to streams.
- Take care on boardwalks and on steps, as these can be slippery in wet weather.
- Prevent children from swinging on branches and climbing steep slopes, rock faces or trees.
- Encourage children to take some responsibility for themselves, for example by watching where they walk.
Cuts and scratches
- Cover cuts and scratches with waterproof plasters.
- Prevent children pulling grasses, bracken and brambles.
Water and wetland areas
- Take care near streams, open water and marshy areas.
- If working with streams or other water, be aware of the potential risk of pollution.
- Keep hands out of mouths after any contact with water.
- Warn children to take care over touching fungi.
- Avoid areas of Bracken at times when spores are produced (August).
- Yew trees are present in some of the woodlands. All parts of this tree are poisonous and contact should be avoided.
- Warn of the dangers of broken glass, dumped cars, etc and avoid these materials when on site.
- Be aware that some parts of some of the woodlands are used by local youths for glue sniffing and other drug taking.
- Check that children have up to date protection against tetanus.
- Warn of the dangers of contact with dog faeces and use antiseptic wipes if contact with these occurs.
- Be aware of the symptoms of Weil's Disease.
- As far as practical, avoid eating and drinking whilst on site.
- Wash hands immediately on return to school.
- Cold weather can cause hypothermia.
- Take particular care to avoid slipping in icy or snowy weather.
- Be aware that hot weather can cause dehydration, exhaustion, sunburn and sunstroke.
- Take care in high winds, especially near potentially unstable trees and below dead branches.
Protecting the site
- Use only proper access points to the woods and close any gates that you walk through.
- Don't leave litter.
- As far as practical, minimize noise.
- Protect wildlife, plants and trees.
- Stones or logs should be replaced if they are turned over.
- If small invertebrates are removed from their habitat, ensure they are treated with care and returned as soon as possible.
Have an enjoyable day in the woods!