South Africa. South African schools have been condemned as death traps after 31 children died last year. Many other pupils may have succumbed later in hospital from injuries sustained at school or in school-related activities.
Dirk Senekal, a member of the SA Health Professions Council, who has been researching school safety, says many of the deaths could have been prevented if schools had had first-aiders on duty, had proper supervision of children and carried out proper maintenance.
Nelmarie du Toit, from the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of South Africa, says just one medical institution – the Red Cross Children’s hospital in Cape Town – has treated 8 519 children over the past six years for injuries at school.
Du Toit says the injuries were due to falling down stairs and from playground equipment; assault with blunt objects, either by peers or adults; burns; and being struck by or against objects at school.
Senekal has been campaigning to get Education Minister Naledi Pandor to get schools to pay closer attention to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The act says schools should have a health and safety committee with level-three first-aiders, a regular safety checklist and a sick room.
Senekal contacted The Star after a nine-year-old girl died when a bakkie rolled back and pinned her to a wall at a school in Johannesburg.
Senekal says this could have been prevented if the car park had been declared out of bounds and teachers had been on duty.
The Gauteng department of education says all schools have safety committees, and one teacher at each school is trained on evacuation procedures and all three levels of first aid.
The department could not give any statistics, however, about how many children have been killed or involved in serious accidents.
Spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi was unavailable for comment.
Medical Research Council statistics show that nine deaths of children aged 6 to 18 had happened in schools in Johannesburg between 2001 and 2005.
But MRC researcher Megan Prinsloo says these figures showed only the scene of death as the school and did not necessarily include deaths which occurred later in hospital.
Marks Ramasike, from the Governing Bodies Association in Soweto, says he knows of many school accidents that were not reported, even to paramedics.
He adds that when it comes to issues of health and safety in schools, it’s “a nightmare”.
“Some schools have someone who can do first aid, but I would say that it is only one in 10 schools.”
Netcare 911 spokesperson Nick Dollman says paramedics are seldom called to schools when there is a crisis.
He adds that most private schools are very organised, with first-aid clubs and sick rooms, but public schools aren’t as jacked up.
This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on January 23, 2008