Litigation in UK Physical Education Departments

Managing Risk Assessment and Litigation in UK Physical Education Departments

This is a research proposal for a British university that aims to examine the rise of the litigation culture in the UK, as well as how schools’ physical education (PE) departments are geared towards coping with it, particularly in light of professional training of physical education teachers for this purpose by management. Risk assessment training is a management-based programme; therefore, the emphasis lies on how the PE manager/head of department manages the process of risk assessment.

Risk assessment has reached a new level of importance in the Information Age. The growth of sophisticated networked information systems and distributed computing has created a potentially dangerous environment for private and public organizations. “Critical data — such as from trade secrets, proprietary information, troop movements, sensitive medical records and financial transactions — flows through these systems” (Hamilton, 1999, p. 69). Consequently, organizations are becoming increasingly concerned with potential exposure and are looking for ways to evaluate their organization’s security profile today.

Risk assessment software applications systems allow researchers, managers and others to perform “what if” analyses of the value of their information and various threats and vulnerabilities (Hyatt, 2002). Different businesses will usually require different types of risk assessment analyses. For example, most industrial applications will probably involve a specific need to identify potential safety hazards in the workplace, whereas the banking industry may require a higher level of sophistication in examining its financial transactions (Hyatt, 2002).

Computerized software tools, are assuming increasing significance in conducting process hazards analyses (PHAs) for risk assessment purposes (Hyatt, 2002). This is because these applications have the potential to offer better online presentations and performance to risk assessment teams, as well as providing better documentation and tracking. The chances of something being “missed” or “slipping through the cracks” are greatly reduced using this approach.

Early computer-based software for performing risk assessments in an industrial setting was discussed by Gordon et al., in the early 90s; however, the use of computer software for risk assessment in industrial applications differs from others in that attention must be paid to making it acceptable not only to the immediate user but also for assisting team interaction and team performance. There are unique opportunities for the creation of more powerful interfaces in order to maximize the information communication process in these different settings. “The key, then, is to cut through the confusion to find the applications that will work best with your company” (Schmidt, 2003, p. 17). However, risk assessment is not a purely scientific enterprise (Mcgarity, 2003). Rather, risk assessment is an analytical process that employs “available scientific information on the properties of an agent and its effects in biological systems to provide an evaluation of the potential for harm as a consequence of environmental exposure to the agent” (Mcgarity, 2003, p. 155). According to this author, risk assessment should be differentiated from risk management, which consists of “the actions individuals and regulatory agencies take to reduce or eliminate the risks human beings encounter” (Mcgarity, 2003, p. 156). The risk-assessment process is becoming increasingly important but it has assumed enormously complex dimensions at the same time.

According to Caroline B. Hamilton, risk assessment involves gathering information about the assets of organizations, including all information assets, such as networks, data centers, computers, hardware, software, and data/information. “It also includes physical assets, such as personnel, network users, the physical facility, and dozens of other organizational resources. The risk-assessment process also includes finding sources for comprehensive threat data, which may be data gathered from internal sources” (Hamilton, 1999, p. 69). Those sources include incident report data, intrusion-detection software, and threat data (such as crime statistics, industry standards and benchmarking data, as well as historical data about what happened. Vulnerability data is then matched to determine what combination of asset/threat/vulnerability could trigger a potential loss; at this point, decisions are made about what safeguards can be implemented in order to mitigate or eliminate the potential loss (Hamilton, 1999).

According to Nigel Hyatt’s “The Advantage of Using Computer Software for Process Hazard Analysis,” No software can be successful unless it addresses and meets the requirements of the users’ end goals. In the case of software for process hazard analysis these requirements are focused upon the handling of information in a number of ways:



Recalling and copying

Access to stored information (Libraries)


Transference (Exporting/Importing)



Printing and presentation

Selection and Tracking

While several of these functions may be undertaken manually, the task becomes onerous unless computerization is adopted.

Computerization has three major benefits in addition to providing functional aids. These include:

Consistency of analysis

Access stored data and information on an as needed basis.

Documentation of results that ensures meaningful records are created.

Although the performance of good process hazards analyses should not be restricted by time considerations, software can greatly improve productivity and efficiency by sharpening the focus, saving time, and improving the system integrity. All of these can lead to significant cost reductions.

Most industrial risk analyses are, by their very nature, qualitative in form. The introduction of risk matrices is an attempt to add some partial quantification. “Because risk is defined as the product of consequence (severity of an incident) and frequency (likelihood), their estimation provides some measure of risk, and therefore the degree of importance” (Hyatt, 2002, p. 137). This type of data in particular is well suited to computerization to assist in identifying the components and categories afforded by risk matrices. According to Hyatt, these can take the form of a predesignated matrix categorization or a user defined matrix (3×3 up to 10×10) (Hyatt, 2002).

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this research project is to investigate the status of risk assessment in a UK physical education programmes to identify a best practices model that can be applied in a variety of settings to help mitigate the impact of injuries and the concomitant resulting litigation using a thoughtful risk assessment approach.

Importance of Study

This study is important for three primary reasons:

1) There are going to be more students in the UK staying in school longer in the future;

2) The importance of being physically active and providing a safe environment in which physical education activities are promoted cannot be overstated; and 3) The UK is becoming increasingly litigious concerning tortious personal injuries. These reasons are discussed further below.

1) There are going to be more students in the UK staying in school longer in the future (Cetron & Davies, 2001). According to Cetron and Davies (2001), the under-20 cohort is remaining in school longer and taking longer to enter the workforce than before. “The age at which at least half of young Europeans either have a job or are seeking one has risen from 18 in 1987 to 20 in 1995. EU-wide, 59% of all 18-year-olds in 1995 were exclusively in education or training. The number varied from 27% in the United Kingdom to 88% in Belgium” (Cetron & Davies, 2001, p. 28).

2) The importance of being physically active cannot be overstated. Years of research evidence supporting the relationship between good health and participation in physical activity was recently summarized and published in the United States Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1996). The Surgeon General recommended daily participation in physical activity for maximum health benefits because inactivity has been found to be significantly related to coronary artery disease (Araki, Huddleston, & Mertesdorf, 2002).

The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health (CDC, 1996) indicates that only 40% of adults are physically active and only 15% participate in leisure time physical activity at the minimum frequency and duration (three times a week for at least 20 minutes) recommended by the American University of Sports Medicine (1991) for maximum health benefits. Also, only 50% of people 12-21 years of age engage in regular leisure time physical activity for the recommended frequency and duration. Some researchers report even lower participation levels and exercise intensities. Activity choices most frequently reported by the physically active, regardless of exercise intensity, are: running, jogging, or walking; weight lifting; aerobic exercise; bicycling; and, swimming or other water activities (Araki, Huddleston, & Mertesdorf, 2002).

One way to better understand participation behavior is to identify individuals’ attitudes about or reasons for involvement in physical activities. According to the body of evidence to date, one of the main reasons for university students’ and young adults’ leisure time physical activity involvement is health and fitness. Other reasons cited include social, competition, or relaxation. Regardless of the reason for involvement, Brynteson and Adams emphasize that it is important to remember that participation levels nation-wide are low. In fact, some researchers maintain that university programs that are designed to promote participation in leisure time physical activity and positive attitudes toward activity can be effective in helping young adults adopt a physically active lifestyle (Brynteson & Adams, 1993).

Furthermore, post-secondary programs that are specifically designed to educate pre-professionals in fields that either directly or indirectly promote the benefits of involvement in leisure time physical activity also represent a key method for reaching the public with the participation message. More specifically, the manner in which university educators in the three disciplines of physical education, health, and leisure services communicate their participation message to students may serve to determine how effectively and safely these students participate in the physical education regimen (Araki, Huddleston, & Mertesdorf, 2002).

Professionals in the field of physical education, for example, attempt to contribute to the continuous educational process of individuals (emotional, social, and physical development) through the medium of human movement. Post-secondary physical education programs, therefore, are designed to educate young professionals in the knowledges, skills, and attitudes needed for teaching and promoting movement activities. Health professionals primarily focus on change processes that affect general well being. More specifically, health specialists are involved in teaching, advocating, and administering health change programs at the individual, organizational, or community level (Simons-Morton, Greene, & Gottlieb, 1995). As such, health professionals prepare students to engage in PE activities and to encourage positive individual behavior change (Araki, Huddleston, & Mertesdorf, 2002).

3) The UK is becoming more litigious concerning tortious physical injuries.

Scope of Study. The costs associated with tort claims in the UK are relatively modest in comparison with those of some other industrialized nations, but the trend towards seeking compensation through the courts is on the rise since its modest decline in the late 1980s (as shown in Table 1 below) (Schuck, 1991).

Rationale of Study

To the extent that physical education teachers can become better informed and trained in the administration of efficacious PE curricula in a manner that takes into account the findings of previous risk assessment studies is the extent to which the school will likely avoid the impact of costly litigation and the negative public relations associated with the process. More importantly, ensuring a safe physical education environment that is conducive to the physical fitness process is a fundamental responsibility of PE teachers everywhere.

A relatively consistent finding in the education literature is that curriculum decisions, instruction, and student learning is affected by the beliefs, attitudes, and values of educators (Kulinna & Silverman, 2000). Even though professionals in the physical education, health, and leisure services disciplines advocate the benefits of regular participation in leisure time physical activity, they differ in beliefs, goals, and process. Therefore, it is important to understand to what extent these three related, yet different, programs influence the attitudes, behaviors and participatory levels of students in physical education programs.

Table 1. International Comparison of Gross Tort Costs As Share of GNP (or GDP)

1975 1980 1987 United States 1.4-1.5-2.6 Australia 0.2-0.2-0.3 Austria 0.6-0.6-0.6 Belgium 0.6-0.6-0.6 Canada 0.5-0.5-0.6 Denmark 0.3-0.4-0.4 France 0.6-0.6-0.6 Italy 0.4-0.4-0.5 Japan 0.3-0.3-0.4 Spain 0.3-0.3-0.3 Switzerland 0.6-0.7-0.8 United Kingdom 0.5-0.6-0.5 West Germany 0.4-0.5-0.5 Note: Gross tort costs for the U.S. include self-insured payments for liability claims.

Gross tort costs for all other countries exclude self-insured payments (and include only liabilily insurance premiums). Source: Peter H. Schuck, American Bar Association. Tort and Insurance Practice Section, American Bar Association. Tort and Insurance Practice Section; W.W. Norton and Co., 1991.


While the research process itself is simply “gathering the information you need to answer a question and thereby help you solve a problem” (Booth, Colomb & Williams, 1995, p. 6), knowing the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, as well as the extent to which a researcher can likely expect reasonable responses, can make the difference between success and failure in a research project. Understanding these differences can make the difference between a weak research strategy and a successful one. Because of the need to obtain as much verifiable and replicable information as possible in any research endeavor, by using the best aspects of both qualitative and quantitative research design, the researcher can achieve better results and will be in a better position to design future projects as well (Leedy, 1993).

The questionnaire to be used in this research project will be designed based on a critical review of the relevant literature. A questionnaire was selected as the appropriate and most cost-effective method of collecting the information needed for the research, as it provides the ability to collect a series of “yes/no,” a series of Likert-scale answers, as well as open-ended answers for respondent comments, insights and recommendations. Some of the advantages of using a questionnaire include the ability to collect a variety of information types through the use of a single questionnaire form, the low cost of the questionnaire method involved, as well as the likelihood of receiving substantive feedback in an anonymous setting (Leedy, 1993). Some of the disadvantages to using a questionnaire form include an inability to perform a one-on-one interview with the selected group of respondents and the limitations that introduces, as well as the relatively small sampling involved in the questionnaire.

The questionnaire will be pilot tested initially at a small independent school; however, for the complete dissertation, a sample of approximately 70 other independent schools will be administered the questionnaire on risk assessment and litigation and the results compiled, analyzed and interpreted. Statistical analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data will be accomplished using SPSS Version 11.0 (Student Version), and relevant graphs, tables and narrative interpretations will be provided. A proforma sample of the working questionnaire is provided at Appendix A.


Araki, K., Huddleston, S. & Mertesdorf, J. (2002). Physical Activity Behavior and Attitudes toward Involvement among Physical Education, Health and Leisure Services Pre- Professionals. College Student Journal, 36(4), 555.

Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G. & Williams, J.M. (1995). The craft of research. Chicago:

Brynteson, P., & Adams II, T.M. (1993). The effects of conceptually-based physical education programs on attitudes and exercise habits of college alumni after 2 to 11 years of follow- up. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64, 208-212.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1996). Physical activity and health: A report of the Surgeon General. United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Atlanta, GA.

Cetron, M.J. & Davies, O. (March 2001). Trends Now Changing the World: Technology, the Workplace, Management, and Institutions. The Futurist, 35(2), 27.

Hamilton, C.R. (Summer 1999). Risk management and security. Information Systems Security, 8(2), 69.

Hyatt, N. (2002). The Advantage of Using Computer Software for Process Hazard Analysis. Occupational Hazards, 11(3), 37.

Kulinna, P.H. & Silverman, S. (2000). Teachers’ attitudes toward teaching physical activity and fitness. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 80-84.

Leedy, P.D. (1993). Practical research: Planning and design. New York: Macmillan.

Mcgarity, T.O. (2003). On the Prospect of “Daubertizing” Judicial Review of Risk Assessment. Law and Contemporary Problems, 66(4), 155.

Schmidt, D. (2003). Technology to the Rescue. Business Credit, 9(1), 37.

Schuck, P.H. (1991). American Bar Association. Tort and insurance practice section. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.

Simons-Morton, B.G., Greene, W.H., & Gottlieb, N.H. (1995). Introduction to health education and health promotion. Chicago, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Appendix A Pro Forma Risk Assessment Questionnaire

Section One: Quantitative Questions

1. Please indicate your position title:

2. How long have you held this position? ____ years

3. How old are you? ____ years

4. How many students are in your class (es)?

5. Has your PE program experienced any physical injuries that resulted in litigation in the past three (3) years? Yes

If yes, please indicate how many:

If yes, did any lawsuits result in adverse outcomes? Yes

Section Two: Qualitative Questions

SA = Strongly Agree

NA = No Answer/Not Applicable

SD = Strongly Disagree


1. Students are going to get hurt in a PE programme no matter what we do.

2. Risk assessment is an important part of any PE programme.

3. I would rather spend money on new equipment than on risk assessment activities.

Section Three

Open-Ended Questions

In the section below, please provide any comments, observations, insights and anecdotes that you may have concerning the importance of physical education, as well as any experiences you may have had with risk assessment, litigation resulting from injuries in PE programmes. Thank you for your participation in this research project. The results of this study will be made available to all participants, but your participation will remain confidential and anonymous.

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