NUR Afini Roslan of SMK Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Gemas, Negri Sembilan died under very tragic circumstances. Gruesome is perhaps the right diction. A blade came loose from a ride-on lawnmower and struck the 14-year-old’s head, slicing open part of her skull. She died at the scene of the accident. Two other students were injured.
This gruesome tragedy brings to the forefront, again, the need for schools to adopt good safety procedures. Safety experts have repeatedly reminded us that accidents do not just happen, they are caused. The Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) webpage of the International Association of Drilling Contractors puts it thus: somebody or several somebodies cause accidents.
When we look for the cause of an accident, we will eventually find out that somebody, somewhere slipped up. The lawnmower accident in the Gemas school is no different. Many questions will need to be answered, chief among them are: why was the ride-on lawnmower on the field when students were there? If the contractor was given clearance to mow the lawn, why were the students allowed on the field? Was the run-on lawnmower well-maintained? Did the contractor have a good safety track record? We do not want to put the cart before the horse, but answers to these and other related questions must go to form the lessons-learned safety report. The past is a good teacher, but we must not allow a flawed past to design our future. Otherwise, we will repeatedly repeat history.
This notwithstanding, lessons from a single accident does not emplace a safety culture in schools. Or any other institutions for that matter. Culture must perforce be inculcated on a daily basis by a planned and systematic approach. To signal the importance of safety in the school environment, it must be led by the principal. Like the chief executive officer does in the corporate world, so must the principal. The school is, after all, a workplace of sorts. The principal can, of course, be assisted by a safety officer. Such an officer can assess all the significant risks in the school and customise safety measures to blunt them.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) is at hand to help, too. It has been running an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in School programme in collaboration with the Human Resources Ministry and the Education Ministry since 2015. Sadly, only 50 schools have participated in the programme thus far.
HSE is a serious issue and the schools must treat it as such. A school that has in place a HSE system will ensure not only the safety, health and welfare of people at work but also those of the students, parents and other visitors. Nur Afini has left us with a lesson. Let us learn from this tragedy and make schools safe for all. An accident does not arrive with a bell on its neck, says a Finnish proverb. But, if we adopt good safety practices, there will not only be a bell on the neck of the accident, it will chime a safety warning, too.