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Home » Latest News » Do schools have a legal obligation to ensure children are protected from the sun?

Do schools have a legal obligation to ensure children are protected from the sun?

Do schools have a legal obligation to ensure children are protected from the sun?
“ If your young child, who could not be held responsible for their own sun care, gets badly burnt then you should take photographs as soon as possible, and submit a formal complaint to their school or nursery. ”

Any prudent parent knows that their child needs to wear sun cream in the summer months, but who is responsible for protecting children from sunburn when they are at school?

There is a myth commonly told in the UK that teachers aren’t allowed to apply sun cream to pupils for safeguarding reasons, however as the UK Health and Safety Executive revealed in their ‘Myth Busters Challenge Panel’ , this is untrue.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) covers schools (as places of work for students), and it states that ‘school staff have a duty under the common law to take care of pupils in the same way that a prudent parent would do so’. Therefore if we assume, and I certainly think you could, that a prudent parent would apply sun cream, that means schools have a duty to do the same.

This is made increasingly difficult in cases where schools are introducing their own blanket bans on teachers touching pupils, a measure they have presumably taken to protect from a safeguarding standpoint. The UK government do not have any rule saying that teachers may not touch pupils, and the question we now need to ask is ‘how can a school comply to the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) without being able to touch children’?

We spoke to several parents to see what they thought about blanket bans on school staff touching children:

Do you think teachers should be allowed to touch children when applying sun cream?

Linda Sulter from Lincoln, said: “Teachers need to be able to touch pupils, if my daughter grazes her knee I want to know that her teacher will be able to comfort her like I might, I certainly want them to be able to help with sun cream”

Tracey Inkpin from North Hykeham, said: “It should be up to the parents to decide if they want their kids to have sun cream applied by school staff”

Rosalia O’Reilly from Dunholme, said: “It’s so important that children have sun cream on, the little ones can’t do it themselves… children’s skin is more delicate too, it’s worth the bother to protect them from getting skin cancer later in life”

So how can schools ensure that they are protecting students from the sun as well as answering schools safeguarding concerns?

It’s important that schools are being proactive about sun care and ensuring that they are taking steps to protect children. Cancer Research UK has launched their own ‘Sun Smart’ website aimed at educating young people. Their advice for schools is to implement a ‘sun protection strategy’. These strategies are aimed at ensuring that children have access to shade, discouraging outdoor activities in the hottest part of the day, and makes sure that parents and children understand the importance of sun care.

Cancer Research UK have drafted a handy sample letter for schools and nurseries to use, it advises parents that they should be providing hats and sun cream, and expressly asks permission for staff to help apply sun cream to children.

What should I do if my child comes home badly sunburnt?

It is important to use initiative – if your child is of primary school age or below then it is certainly worth expressing your concerns with the school or caregiver; sunburn can cause long lasting skin damage and must be taken seriously. Older children should be able to look after their own sun care, provided they are physically and mentally able.

If your young child, who could not be held responsible for their own sun care, gets badly burnt then you should take photographs as soon as possible, and submit a formal complaint to their school or nursery. You may well be entitled to sue for compensation on behalf of your child if the injury is severe and it is clear that the school did not take reasonable steps to prevent it.

 

Kathryn Hudson, Bridge McFarland

APIL Accredited Personal Injury Specialist and Senior Litigator