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Is Mortarboard Throwing a Safety Issue?

by Dominic Chandler
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The University of East Anglia(UEA) has recently been criticised by the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) for introducing a ban on throwing graduation caps also known as Mortar Boards in the air at their 2016 Graduation Ceremonies.

The HSE has branded this ban as ‘Over-the-top’ and emphasises the chance of being injured by a mortarboard was highly unlikely.

The UEA has stressed that this ban applies to large groups throwing their mortarboards and not to small groups who are having their pictures taken around the campus. Professor Neil Ward who is deputy Vice Chancellor at the UEA said:

“We’re not banning anything, we have a large photograph of about 250 students in their gowns and the last few years we’ve had a few nasty accidents which has rather spoilt the day for some students and so it’s an avoidable accident, so we are discouraging the throwing of graduation hats in the big orchestrated photograph, but people can take their own photographs around the campus if they wish.”

Martin Lewis, the Managing Director of ‘Graduation Attire Ltd‘ in Bedford told ITV News Anglia that there have been people in the past hurt at graduation ceremonies.

“There have been cases where people have been hurt and there is a health and safety risk. An unaware bystander could get hit or worse, a young child could be injured. You can see why some universities have tried to ban it. Of course, in reality you’ll never stop students throwing their hats, after all the day is about the students and they see tossing the mortarboard as part of the pageantry. For the time being we’ve found the most effective approach is to make the students aware of the risk. At our ceremonies we display information highlighting the risks and we also email students when they book through our website. This all tends towards reducing injuries.”

It is important to note that the ‘hat toss’ is a fairly recent tradition in the UK. It started in America where the hats tend to be lighter and the board is less rigid. UK students have emulated this, presumably after seeing it on television and in films.

Martin and the team at Graduation Attire has proposed a solution that will improve the hat and reduce safety issues. This solution is focusing on three essential factors appearance, durability and health and safety.

“We have a new design in production using a new material to give the hat softer corners. It remains both robust and traditional in appearance. This is one of our many approaches to modernising graduation. Another innovation includes mortarboards specifically designed for those wearing religious head wear and turbans. We once even made a gown for a guide dog. The students said they couldn’t have completed their degree without ‘Goldie’ and on the day they went up on stage wearing matching gowns.”

Geoff Cox, Health & Safety Executive Public Sector Team stated his concerns on the current situation:

“As far back as 2008, HSE made clear the law does not stop graduates having fun and celebrating their success in the time-honoured fashion.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.

This debate will rage on well into 2016 so will we see more Universities enforce the request to stop this old tradition or will the individual educational establishments introduce their own legislation with regards to throwing the mortar board in the air?

Whichever option is selected the safety of those attending must be taken into consideration first and foremost.

Click below to watch a report by ITV News Anglia’s Natalie Gray.


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