Most bizarre health & safety cases: Graduates told not to throw headgear

Sometimes in the world of health and safety there are a few cases which might leave us wondering how on earth they could happen, and if there really is a risk of a slip, trip or fall. In 13 years of providing compensation advice, Accident Advice Helpline has uncovered some bizarre incidents where institutions have taken extreme measures in order to protect their employees and students from injury. Below is one such example.

Graduation should be one of the happiest memories of your entire life, and throwing your mortar board into the air is a much treasured tradition, one which began in 1912 at the United States Naval academy in Maryland.  That is until one university decided to take the unusual step of banning the practice.

Did this really happen to graduate students, and why?

In 2008, Angel Ruskin University, which has campuses in Cambridge and Chelmsford, took the unusual step of banning graduating students from throwing their mortar boards into the air, a move branded by student organisations as, “health and safety gone mad”. The decision was taken by the university after one student was struck by a falling mortar board and required stitches.

A statement on the university website said: “It is requested that graduates do not throw the hat up into the air, as this not only causes damage to the hats, but can also cause injury if the corner of the hat hits the graduate or others who may be nearby.”

Chay Champness, the British Safety Council deputy chief executive, said: “It is sad that we are becoming a culture where fear of litigation and overzealous interpretation of the rules is pushing people to be overly cautious. “It is imperative that we encourage sensible and proportionate decision making, not the needless outlawing of age old traditions.”

All over the world, students have marked the culmination of their academic careers by casting off their mortar boards.

The incident illustrates that an accident can occur in the most unlikely of circumstances. The incident also illustrates how much pressure institutions are under in order to maintain high standards of health and safety. Ultimately, the university has the best interests of its students at heart, and wishes to keep them free from injury. However, there is often a very thin line between what constitutes good health and safety practice, and what can sometimes be seen as overly extreme measures.

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