New crossing patrol to start

Schoolchildren and traffic on Mitford Road in Morpeth.
Schoolchildren and traffic on Mitford Road in Morpeth.

A NEW school crossing patrol officer is set to start training this week, but there is confusion about safety rules.

The Herald revealed in June that there was no patrol in place to see hundreds of children at Morpeth’s Chantry and Newminster middle schools safely across the busy Mitford Road.

An attendant was due to start work in December, but failed to show up.

And last month frustrated Morpeth town councillor David Clark urged parents to take matters into their own hands and don hi-vis vests to oversee the crossing themselves.

Fellow councillors warned that it would fall foul of health and safety rules and could leave parents or teachers at risk of legal action if an accident occurred.

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has contacted the Herald to say there is no legislation preventing it.

HSE Head of Operations for Yorkshire and the North East John Rowe said: “Whatever the reasons for teachers believing they are not allowed to see youngsters safely across the road, we at the Health and Safety Executive would like to make it clear that it is not because there is anything in health and safety legislation that prohibits it.

“We see hundreds of stories each year in which health and safety is blamed incorrectly for an unnecessary or over-zealous restriction. So much so that we’ve set up a panel of experts to help people challenge daft decisions.

“‘Health and safety gone mad’ is something we hear too much about, but we should keep our minds on what health and safety legislation is really there to do — ensuring everyone can return home to their families, safe and well from their day’s work.”

However, Northumberland County Council says that parents and teachers can not perform the task as they are not able to stop traffic under Department for Transport rules.

A council spokeswoman said: “The only people who legally have the power to stop traffic are the police, officers of the Highways Agency and school crossing patrols, wearing reflective hat, coat and lollipop stick.”

The Department for Transport said that only people trained in crossing patrol can take on the duties, but there is nothing to stop volunteers from going through the training.

A spokesman said: “The requirements under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 are that school crossing patrol officers (SCPs) be appointed by the appropriate authorities, ie the council of the county, unitary authority or metropolitan district. There is no requirement in the legislation that the appointed person has to be a paid employee, they could be a volunteer.

“The appropriate authority is required to be satisfied of the adequate qualifications of the person appointed to patrol, and must provide requisite training. Once appointed and trained, the law gives the individual wearing a uniform approved by the Secretary of State the power, by displaying a prescribed sign, to require drivers to stop. SCPs operating outside these conditions have no legal power to stop traffic.”

Chantry Head of School Steven Johnson said staff have taken advice from the council on safety, and he is looking forward to a new patrol starting work.

“We have always taken guidance from Northumberland County Council on this as it is responsible for school crossing patrol. We don’t want to put our children at risk so we have had to take guidance.

“It has taken a long time to get this sorted out, but hopefully we have a new patrol starting on Friday. Fingers crossed we can now make progress.”

The council says there are 71 school crossing posts in the county and 22 are vacant, but a new officer will begin training in Morpeth on Friday.