The importance of safety mattresses in schools

Handstand on chipfoam mat

Making teachers aware of the structure and uses of safety mats is important when it comes to the safety of pupils in the school gym.

Many accidents involving physical education have been caused by safety mattresses being used incorrectly by staff and pupils. To help avoid future accidents, schools should be made fully aware of the importance of putting safety mats in the correct place prior to use.

Below, Beemat takes a look at the role of safety mattresses in schools and preventative measures to keep pupils and teachers safe in the school gym.

Why safety mattresses?

Safety mattress are an essential part of physical education and are used to absorb the landing of pupils during physical education sessions involving gym apparatus. Safety mats should therefore be seen as equipment that is designed to not only to cope with the planned, but also with the unforeseen landings in a gym.

"Pupils should be protected against a false sense of security"

The use of safety mattresses in a school gym immediately eliminates or greatly reduces the impact shock and associated injuries that occur when a pupil has an unforeseen accident, so its important children are taught to recognise the need to use safety mats in a disciplined way.

Safety mat placing

Safety mats currently used by schools must be sufficient to act as a surface to absorb the falls that can happen when following the PE curriculum. For example, falls from wall-bars are very common. In many instances, pupils have a perception that wall-bars are "safe"  meaning they may disregard safety advice and attempt activities beyond their capability.

To combat unforeseen accidents, the placing of safety mattresses in the gym is very important. They should be used where it is expected that children will need to cushion deliberate landings as opposed to being scattered around the school gym. This will prevent any accidents involving young children accidentally tripping over them or falling.

Teachers should be aware that safety mats may be required by inexperienced pupils in the early stages of traversing school apparatus at a height such as a ladder or bar suspended between trestles. This covers pupils so they can perform activities in a safe and appropriate way.

Best safety mattresses for schools

A general purpose gym mat of approximately 25mm thickness will normally meet most
landing needs in the level of gymnastics inherent in the school gym. However, if the force of a child’s landing is increased by factors such as the weight of the child, the height of flight and the speed of the activity, thicker mats may be necessary.

Thick safety mattresses should not be relied upon by teachers to absorb any kind of landing and to prevent injury, and it is therefore recommended that “Crash Mats” or landing mattresses are not used in Primary Schools.

If schools or teachers are concerned over the safe use of apparatus, it may be worth considering some staff training.

Advice for PE teachers

  • Make sure that pupil's concentration levels remain high during gymnastic activity. Check that children are focused and that their interest is maintained throughout the session.
  • Encourage pupils to inform a teacher if they have any concerns relating to the safety or stability of the apparatus they are using.
  • Encourage children to work effectively as a team when assembling, setting out and putting away apparatus. Always check apparatus has been correctly assembled before use.
  • If apparatus needs to be lifted or moved, ensure this is carried out in a safe manner using accepted health and safety techniques.
  • Encourage pupils to liaise with the teacher immediately if they are unsure about their personal limits and capabilities on any school apparatus.
  • Teach pupils to understand that body preparation, practice and consolidation are essential in gymnastics to help  build confidence and protect them from injury.
  • Make pupils aware they must never work or practice in an unsupervised setting in gymnastics.

Remember: A safety mattress has a limited protective capacity, and it is good technique which is ultimately the key to safe practice in the school gym. Different safety mats have different functions in helping to develop pupil's skills, and pupils  need to comply with these expectations in order to stay safe.