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May 18, 2016

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Ban on throwing mortarboards ‘tired health and safety myth’


Students have been banned from throwing their mortarboards in the air at the University of East Anglia (UEA), with health and safety being used as an erroneous excuse.

According to The Tab, the student newspaper for the university in Norwich, students have been urged to mime a throwing action and have hats digitally added to the photo afterwards for £8.

A university spokesperson said injuries cause by falling mortarboards presented an “unacceptable risk”.

She said: “We want to ensure no student’s graduation day is ruined by the potential for avoidable injury.”

The Health and Safety Executive, which set up the Myth Busters panel to tackle the use of health and safety as a catch-all excuse responded to the story.

“You’d think universities would study history and do a bit of research before repeating tired health and safety myths like this one,” said Geoff Cox.

“The banning of mortarboard tossing on supposed ‘health and safety’ grounds is one of our most popular myths and actually appears in our Top 10 all-time worst health and safety excuses.”

He added that the law doesn’t stop graduates from celebrating their success in the time-honoured fashion of throwing their mortarboards in the air.

“The chance of being injured by a flying mortar board is incredibly small and it’s over-the-top to impose an outright ban.

“We usually find the concern is actually about the hats being returned in good condition.”

The UEA spokesperson said the policy had been agreed by the the academic dress suppliers “who often receive back damaged mortarboards, and our photographers”.

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Phil Burton
Phil Burton
7 years ago

I regularly get “‘elf safety” experts! coming out with such and have a simple response – which is not liked. Quantitively evaluate. Assign a value to the consequence (there are many VPF- [value per fatality] type matrices available. work out the probability. 60 students in a 100m.sq. area throw boards…how many fall to the floor without harm, how many hit a shoulder but still no harm, how many cause harm etc. This creates a risk value. Then say to the person, you therefore consider a H&S risk of xxx as un-acceptable therefore any activity with a greater risk must also… Read more »

Dr Bill Robbb
Dr Bill Robbb
7 years ago

The HSE has missed the point and I have mentioned this to them several times. What the HSE avoids when mocking employers for health and safety bans, is not health and safety but the fear of being sued. The HSE for some reason cannot bring itself to have the six pack regulations removed from the regulations which an be used to sue employers or anyone that injures you. With strict liability, if a student’s eye was knocked out with a mortar board and he/she sued the university, they would win!!!!!
Don’t mock people for their fear of being sued!!!

7 years ago
Reply to  Dr Bill Robbb

Surely on that basis the university should seal all the upstairs windows and remove all the kettles…maybe they have!

Terry Callan
Terry Callan
7 years ago

Well UEA admits at the end what the true reason is:
“The UEA spokesperson said the policy had been agreed by the the academic dress suppliers “who often receive back damaged mortarboards, and our photographers””.
More money for photographers (£8) and and less damage to mortarboards, maybe the latter is class as property damage and the first point greed!!

Steven Bryan
Steven Bryan
7 years ago

I completely agree with Phil and Terry – it’s nonsense to blame the decision on Health & Safety and offering to digitally add hats to photographs rather misses the point.

This is yet another example of health and safety being used as a catch-all excuse. These “bonkers conkers” decisions actually raise some really serious questions about risk assessment technique and health & safety policy.