On Monday this week, 14 pupils of Kakamega Primary School died following a stampede. The sad occurrence took place on the third floor of the five-storeyed building. There were many injuries that left a few in the intensive care units of hospitals.
The evening incident happened when the pupils were leaving the school for home.
It is not yet clear what could have caused the stampede, but it turned worse due to the thin staircase when other pupils responded to the screams, leading to pushing and jostling.
This brought sad memories of similar incidents that have happened in Kenyan schools where learners lost lives.
Undeniably, the incident at Kakamega Primary has brought to the fore the importance of safety in our schools.
One of the most critical responsibilities of every school is safety and how to enhance it. Schools face a huge task of enhancing safety due to many parameters that expose schools to incidents.
Safety here can mean a school environment that’s reasonably free from danger to all learners and other players such as teachers and non-teaching staff and a process of actively preventing the schools from becoming unsafe.
All schools are expected to provide a safe schooling environment. This however, doesn't mean being completely free of danger, but rather that it offers an acceptable level of risk for all learners.
Schools must be vigilant about the learning conditions by making learners to be made cognizant of their surrounding and report to their leaders hazards.
Additionally, learners should not be exposed to stress as it has been proven that fatigue contributes to accidents in schools.
Although school safety mainly focuses on the physical health and safety of learners; psychological safety is another that can affect some learners.
Psychological safety entails trust, risk-taking and assurance that your input and ideas as a learner won't be belittled, ridiculed or penalised.
To guarantee psychological safety, schools can become more inclusive by inviting learners to participate in decision making about issues that affect them.
Nevertheless, to boost safety culture in schools, effective communication is not only critical but a must. Schools need to efficiently communicate with learners on prevention and protection.
When learners frequently communicate openly, they are also more willing to give and receive feedback. Effective communication, therefore, supports co-operation and co-ordination between players in a school environment. Thus, learners become part of school’s safety culture through communication.
Lack of clear communication from school management can compromise safety. Mismatches in safety communication can lead learners to disregarding or developing a cynical view of safety.
Most schools do not spend quality time educating and or sensitising learners on fostering safety culture. Further, safety matters in schools are poorly communicated and, therefore, students do not appreciate it. It is, therefore, important for schools to have measures that will enlighten learners on safety to enhance that culture.
Effective communication on safety matters requires appropriate preparation, the selection of suitable procedures and a system of monitoring to deliver required information to the right audience.
Poor communication can increase incidents and accidents in institutions.
Effective communication supports the development of positive relationships with all stakeholders and can impact attitudes and behaviours in relation to safety.
It has been proven that with a proper safety communication plan in schools, incidents and accidents are minimised and at the same time in case of an occurrence mitigation, measures are quickly initiated.
Critically, safety communication in schools involves not only sharing positive messages. Where necessary, unwelcome news should be shared, but in a manner that identifies the school’s commitment to make changes.
It should be the objective of every school to effectively communicate safety standards to every learner and stakeholder.
The writeris a Communication Specialist and Certified Public Relations Analyst.