Bantshire Graduation: Incident Report

Executive Summary

An incident report has been received, backing up anecdotal evidence of the last few years, stating that a member of staff was injured at a photographic event after a graduation ceremony.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is a disturbing trend and a worrying outcome to what is otherwise a joyous occasion.


Following a lengthy and detailed investigation it was determined that a gravity powered mortar board with pointy corners and hard edges caused the small cut on the staff member’s head resulting in some discomfort. Although this is not a Specified Injury, it is not clear if this will result in a 7-day absence and therefore still be reportable to the HSE.

The mortar board was allowed to be powered by gravity because it was thrown in the air by a recent ex-student (it is not believed this was directed at the member of staff, even though the ex-student received a lower class of degree than expected). As mortar board throwing is a long standing tradition it would be unreasonable to eliminate it, therefore a full risk assessment was conducted and a summary controls is below.

Risk Controls


Square mortar boards should be changed to round mortar boards and be made of a pliable rubber. Removal of the corners and substitution of the hard board material for a softer one will significantly reduce the consequence of an injury.


All mortar boards should have a parachute in their cap. This will reduce their descent speed allowing staff and ex-students to catch their mortar boards, thus significantly reducing the likelihood of an injury.


Everyone involved in an event where organised mortar board throwing is practiced must undertake the 30 minute training and practice session. They must also read, understand and sign a copy of the University’s Graduation ‘Control of Mortar Boards and Throwing’ (CoMBAT) Rules.


Lastly (as it only protects those who don their PPE correctly and in a timely manner); to mitigate against any defects or tampering of the mortar boards by disgruntled ex-students, participants must wear safety glasses before the photographic event begins. This will ensure that everyone is protected should there be any premature mortar board throwing. In addition, participants must place a hard hat on their head whist the mortar boards are in flight (preferably before gravity takes hold).


The design of undergraduate and (non-PhD) postgraduate ceremonial dress should be changed before the graduation ceremonies commence next year to ensure there are no further injuries to our prestigious academics. The CoMBAT Rules should be written and signed off by the Executive Team to demonstrate a commitment to improving safety. Training should be delivered by the Head of School to which the ceremony / photographic event relates. The Health and Safety team can advise on a supplier for suitable PPE (please note: hard hats are available in black so they will not look out of place).

Thanks to JufroJim on Twitter for compiling this detailed report.