There are two very different types of animal workshops. There is the school-based animal workshop, which is often fronted by an experienced researcher and there is the big reptile, children's party-orientated workshop – fronted by an entertainer. These workshops are often very different.
What you expect from a school-based workshop is that they are going to be a professional outfit, fronted by a teacher, zoologist or an experienced enthusiast with a very good knowledge base – who is going to undertake a national curriculum science lesson. What you are looking for is an individual who can impart their love and knowledge of the subject to your children and put that creature into the context of the science lesson that you want developed. You are not looking for a demonstrator who is going to reinforce negative stereotypes and attitudes. Many children are fearful of big snakes and thus a demonstrator's primary role is to alleviate negative fears and demonstrate the fascinating beauty of these creatures – not revel in being a macho-man wielding a six foot python. You are asking him to show a snake and talk about it in relation to senses, habitats, adaptation or food chains. What you have to ask yourself is - does it need to be six feet long and why? If the inclusion can be justified - fine. The animal must also fit into a logical sequence of creatures that develop your specific classroom science theme. It is unlikely that you have booked a road-show to specifically talk about snakes – the demonstrator will probably be expected to be developing a national curriculum science topic using a wide range of relevant animals. Unless, of course, you want a road show to turn up at your school and simply talk about giant reptiles?
What you are also looking for is an individual who has given some thought to the animals that they are bringing into your classroom and what they intend doing with them? What you should never see is a demonstrator placing a large boa or python snake around a child's shoulders. A few years ago a survey was undertaken to discover why so many adults are fearful of snakes - and what came back, time after time, is that ‘when I was nine years old a giant snake was placed around my neck and then it began to move and I was terrified.' Not good and so unnecessary. The demonstrator could have just as easily used a small, well handled, corn snake – allayed all fears and perfectly adequately discussed and developed a given topic. Another example of bad practice is the placing of a tarantula spider on a child's hand or head. The demonstrator should cup the spider in his own hand and the child can stroke its legs. We thus have wonderment, but safe wonderment tempered by professionalism.
In the UK it is illegal to keep certain animals without a DWA license, which include crocodiles, alligators and dangerous scrubland/desert scorpions - so you should not see these animals being brought into your classroom, unless they are dead and dried or stuffed. What you do not want in your school is the liability road show. All of which, brings us to my own personal belief that large snakes should not be taken into primary schools for the purpose of handling. The statement, ‘my large boa or python does not bite' – is simply not true. It can inflict a painful bite and thus it should not be placed in a scenario where this is possible. Many years ago I watched a demonstrator being bitten by his own python, resulting in a very distressed class. If the demonstrator does feel it is necessary, he should be distanced from the children and the snake should not be touched. A well handled corn snake can then be got out for stroking. For additional safety the demonstrator can palm the head of the snake so that only the body is stroked.
Even the lizard that the demonstrator is using indicates the level of thought that has gone into working with children. Many wonderful lizards (not all) have sharp claws – which mean that a child can get scratched. If the child is just stroking the lizard, no problem, if the child is holding it we have a different scenario. Essentially, in any workshop, some animals are for demonstration and some are for touchy feely! Your demonstrator should know the difference.
Essentially it is all about striking a balance between the showmanship of presenting a live animal show (these workshops have been described as educational theatre) and the health and safety of both the children and the animals. What the demonstrator must never forget is that the health and safety of the children in your class is paramount and must never be compromised for the sake of theatre.
It is important to ensure that your demonstrator has been cleared for working with children - are they enhanced CRB police checked? Ask to see their documentation. Are they insured? Ask to see their policy document. Ask for a Risk Assessment – they should have given this subject some thought. Ask for the list of the animals, which they intend to bring into your school.
In my opinion absolute no, no's in schools are – very large snakes, King snakes, rat snakes (unless purely for display and no child contact) many large lizards such as monitors, baby crocodiles/alligators (a DWA license is needed to keep the latter, which means secure housing - and consequently it is illegal to bring either of these reptiles into schools), live centipedes and live DWA desert scorpions. Anybody who uses this material thoughtlessly is essentially coming into your school as the liability workshop.
Animals which are fine for the purpose of show-and-tell demonstrations but for various reasons (susceptible to stress or simply being scratchy or able to bite, pinch or sting) should not be handled/touched by a large number of child are – most frogs, some small tropical toads, geckos, chameleons (all of which, are subject to stress), scratchy lizards, king, rat and milk snakes, all terrapins, crabs, West African forest scorpions, Asian millipedes, some large scratchy stick insects and large scratchy tropical beetles. Many children unfortunately panic when a large insect with sharp claws climbs on their person – so the use of these animals must be closely supervised. Fine if it goes onto their shirt – not so good on their hand.
Well handled and trained animals that are fine for supervised child contact (not necessarily handling but touching) are - tortoises, Australian blue tongued skinks, some lizards, corn snakes, White's tree frogs, toads, giant West African millipedes, land snails, tropical cockroaches, some tropical beetles, some stick insects and some tarantula spiders.
Which brings us to the subject of hand washing. All workshops where animals are touched should emphasise, at the beginning of the workshop, that children should not put their fingers in mouths and at the end of the workshop hands should be washed with soap and water and if the school wishes – antiseptic hand gel applied. Very young children should be watched by staff and actively discouraged from putting fingers into mouths. This is simply good practice. Wet wipes and hand gel are not a substitute for hand washing.
We ask one more thing of you. It is not fair on the demonstrator if unsupervised children have access to the display area during break times. The demonstrator should have access to the staff toilets or a toilet which is not used by unsupervised children. These arrangements should be sorted out at the beginning of the day. When arranging the timetable please allow a five minute toilet break for the demonstrator mid morning.
Risk Assessment: Name of Assessor – Guy Tansley.
Activity/Process/Operation – Workshops utilise cold blooded vertebrates and invertebrates in National Curriculum linked science demonstrations. These workshops are designed to visit the school and usually take place in a hall, music room or spare classroom. The workshops are designed for individual classes or year groups. Our animals or workshops are not suited for whole school assemblies. The workshops are designed specifically for Early Years, Primary (Key stages 1 & 2) and Special Schools.
Demonstrator – Guy Tansley has over 30 years experience with exotic animals. He has an up-to-date CRB – (for reasons of security please e-mail email@example.com for number). A copy of this document and a copy of his insurance policy can be sent to the school/event organiser.
What are the hazards to health and safety? – As both teachers and children have the opportunity to touch live animals, the following problems must be considered in the context of a health and safety assessment – these include biting, scratching, unexpected rapid movement, jumping, dropped animals, micro organisms and contact with animal faeces. Reptile/Invertebrate workshops generally avoid the hazards associated with hair, dust, faeces, bodily fluids and feathers that are associated with mammals and birds. There is also the small risk of salmonella/campylobacter – but it should be stressed is far less likely than in farm animals, cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits and caged birds.
What risks do they pose and to whom? – The key potential problems, when working with live animals (specifically the vertebrate class reptiles/amphibians and invertebrates) essentially evolve around a child being scratched or bitten or panicking and dropping a live animal and both experiencing trauma. There is also the trauma that some children feel when seeing large snakes. When working with any animals bacteria must be taken into consideration and the school/event must decide if vulnerable children and adults (poor immune systems or pregnancy) should come into physical contact with live animals. New World tarantula spider’s often have urticating hairs on their abdomens, which can cause irritation.
What precautions have been taken to reduce risk? – All children are fully inducted at the beginning of each workshop into a set of rules when working with live animals. These roles are intended to give the children the option (thus allaying fears) of handling/or not handling – which can be indicated by folding arms. The children are then asked to ponder on the health and safety of the animals, which include low noise, gentle touching and not pulling hands away. No animal is placed on a child’s hands without the additional support of the demonstrator. No animal that can bite or scratch is ever placed on a child or adults hand. Tarantula spiders are never placed on a child or adult’s hand and snakes are never placed around a child or adults shoulders. Children at the beginning of the workshop are told never to put fingers in their mouths and the necessity of washing hands at the end of the workshop. These instructions are again repeated at the close of the workshop. Children who are observed with open cuts on their hands are told that they cannot touch until a waterproof dressing has been applied.
It should be noted that as we only use cold blooded animals. We do not use any vertebrate animals that have fur or feathers – thus reducing the risk of an allergic reaction to a minimal level. All of our animals are also grouped into two categories - (1) those animals which, are intended to be for display only (no physical contact) (2) those animals which are deemed to be child friendly. Essentially the children do not come into contact with any animal which can bite, pinch or scratch or is ascertained to be fragile or likely to be subject to stress. These may include, crabs and African forest scorpions, which pinch and scratchy giant beetles or scratchy giant stick Insects. Geckos, chameleons and tree frogs, on the other hand, are susceptible to becoming stressed. Some giant stick Insects, it should be noted, are only placed on clothing as they possess sharp claws for climbing. Animals such as snakes are chosen for their mild temperament, small size and are palmed when stroked – so that only the body can be touched. The demonstrator also palms the tarantula spider so that only the front legs can be stroked. Millipedes (being fragile) are held by demonstrator and the children experience the tickle and Velcro effect of their myriad of legs on the palm of their hands. The tropical cockroaches that we use were collected and are captive bred specifically because they have soft claws and are relatively slow.
What further action is needed to reduce risk? – It is important that members of staff are present in sufficient numbers and play an active supervisory role. Emphasis is on making the children aware that they are expected to behave in a calm and orderly fashion to ensure the health and safety of the animals. Noise should be kept to a minimum. Some of the animals are displayed on an exhibition carpet area - when demonstrating movement. For the safety of the animals, children must not step on to this carpet unless specifically invited to do so. If before the show a child is discovered with an open cut on their hand, the wound should be dressed or enclosed in a latex glove. All children after the show should be supervised and made to wash their hands with soap and water. Wipes by themselves are not sufficient, nor is antiseptic gel a replacement for soap and water - only a temporary substitute on the way to the toilets. No child should ever be allowed to consume food or drink in the presence of the demonstrator and food breaks must take place away from the display area. No child should have access to the demonstrator during the morning or lunch breaks unless accompanied by a supervisor.
Risk Level: Low.
We have been awarded our Animal Welfare License (2018 Regulations) for Activities Involving Animals. This license came into force on April 1st 2019 so if you're booking anyone for events involving animals, please make sure they have this in place. License no. DCC/ALA/076803.
Guy has Enhanced DBS clearance and is appropriately insured (copies available on request).
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