Early on Friday morning, local newspaper paper the Oxford Times published the following story:
The article, which is written by Emily Allen, says that Oxfordshire County Council has banned children from wearing swimming goggles in a “health and safety move condemned by parents”.
However, before long the article reveals that:
The council refused to confirm why and when it decided to ban the goggles, but one parent believed it was a recent decision following concerns children might hurt themselves if goggles snap on to their faces.
Right. So, one parent “believed” that the decision was taken because of health and safety. Personally, I wouldn’t consider that as proof.
But never mind that. Let’s press on:
Asked for the reason for the ban, council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “This local authority, like others throughout the UK, reflects to schools the national guidance provided by various governing sport bodies on this issue.
“These organisations include The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), the Swimming Teachers Association (STA), the Association for Physical Education and the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management.”
Again, there’s no mention of health and safety. If this was the reason swimming goggles had been banned, why on earth would they be cagey about it? What would be the point?
Ms Allen then tells us that “Oxfordshire is not alone in banning goggles”. Apparently:
Last year, Leicestershire County Council advised schools of the “dangerous” eyewear which it said could snap back in children’s faces, or make them bump into one another due to reduced peripheral vision. Hertfordshire County Council has done the same.
Now, I managed to track down a Daily Mail article about the Leicestershire County Council “ban” from early last year:
This article does seem to indicate that Leicestershire council voiced concerns over the goggles’ possible risks, but this doesn’t seem to have been the main reason for the “ban”.
Indeed, the Mail’s article makes no mention of a ban, merely an “alert” and a “warning”.
The Mail article says:
‘Part of the learning to swim experience’ was being able to cope with splashing in the face, it was claimed.
This reminded me of another, similar story from late last year. In this article, the Daily Mail claimed that a ten-year-old swimming champion had been banned from wearing swimming goggles because of – you guessed it – health and safety.
I blogged about the story at the time, pointing out that the actual reason for the “ban” had nothing to do with health and safety.
That article quoted a Tory councillor as saying:
Our swimming teachers follow established guidelines.
These state that beginners and improvers – unless they have a medical condition – should not wear goggles. That is so that they can get used to eye contact with the water.
So, what the Mail presented as a health and safety ban, was in fact rather the opposite.
People who moan and whinge about “health and safety gone mad” are always saying today’s youngsters are too coddled and protected. Surely, they’d agree with what the Tory councillor above said.
Well, they don’t.
But, anyway, the essential point is that the Mail said there was a health and safety ban when there wasn’t.
Back to the Mail’s article from last February. It doesn’t help that, in this case, a number of people talked about the potential risks of wearing goggles. They told the Mail that the goggles might snap back in the children’s faces or that they might cause the children to collide with others.
However, the Mail quoted a council spokesman as saying:
The County Council has not banned children from wearing swimming goggles. We have informed schools about guidance from the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management, supported by the Amateur Swimming Association, and said it is a matter for their consideration.
There was no ban on wearing safety goggles in Leicestershire coming from the council, so Ms Allen was wrong to say there was in her article from Friday. The council merely issued guidance on the matter and allowed the schools to make their own minds up.
Indeed, Leicestershire County Council have posted advice on their website regarding swimming goggles:
The advantage of using swimming goggles during prolonged swimming activity to reduce or prevent eye irritation, to improve vision and for medical reasons is recognised by the ISRM. However if the pool water is in good condition, it should not be necessary for children to use swimming goggles for swimming lessons.
This advice does include a mention of the risks of swimming goggles but only to state that they should be up to standard. Nowhere does it say that swimming goggles are “banned” because of health and safety.
Now, what about Ms Allen’s claim that Hertfordshire County Council has too banned swimming goggles?
The only article I could find was from the London Evening Standard, from July 2004. This story is very brief indeed and I can’t find any other articles, but it seems to follow the same general narrative of the Leicestershire “ban”.
(This particular article does include one amusing comment from a parent in which health and safety is confused with political correctness.)
Anyway, back to the present day, and Ms Allen’s Oxford Times article. The first “ban” she refers to wasn’t a ban at all and, in any case, didn’t come from the council. It’s likely that the same is true with Ms Allen’s second “ban” too.
After a number of outraged quotes which have been suborned from various mothers, the article finishes by saying:
The ASA [Amateur Swimming Association] said it did not have a strict policy on goggle use, but offered guidance to pool operators and parents.
The STA [Swimming Teachers Association] said children should be encouraged to not wear goggles in swimming lessons, but recognised they may be necessary for medical or other reasons. It added that goggles should meet British standards and fit correctly.
Again, this is no health and safety ban.
In fact, the Oxford Times (and Witney Gazette and Bicester Advertiser) had so little confidence in the veracity of the story, they included the following poll, asking readers to let them know what they think:
Remove the caveats from the answers and put me down as “no”…
Within a few hours of Ms Allen’s article(s) being published, the Telegraph hastily knocked up their own version, with a few slight changes and a distinct lack of a byline:
Just in case you’re interested, the Telegraph have masterfully decided to replace “council” with “pen-pushers” and have described the ban as having been “slapped” onto the goggles by “bureaucrats”.
You couldn’t make it up…