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  1. ITV Report

Mortar danger? University bans hat-throwing at graduation

UAE said the throwing of mortarboards had caused a number of injuries over recent years to graduates. Credit: Martin Rickett/PA Archive

Health and safety officials have criticised a university which has banned the graduation day tradition of throwing a mortarboard into the air over apparent safety fears.

The University of East Anglia in Norwich claimed the time-honoured celebration posed an "unacceptable risk" and said a number of graduates had been hurt by falling hats in recent years.

Instead it will offer £8 photographs of students miming the throw with the mortarboards added digitally.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the ban was "over the top" and perpetuated a common "myth" with any risk of danger "incredibly small".

Third year English literature student Alice Kashia told ITV's Good Morning Britain she was "horrified" by the ban and vowed to defy it when she graduates this summer.

A university spokesperson told student newspaper The Tab the ban had been backed by photographers and the academic dress suppliers, who "often receive back damaged mortarboards".

The decision to not have the traditional 'hat throwing' photo opportunity for all students this year follows a number of injuries over recent years to graduates hurt by falling mortarboards.

This is an unacceptable risk and we want to ensure no student's graduation day is ruined by the potential for avoidable injury.

– University of East Anglia spokesperson

HSE's head of public sector Geoff Cox said he wished the university would be better educated on the real risks.

You'd think universities would study history and do a bit of research before repeating tired health and safety myths like this one. The banning of mortarboard tossing on supposed 'health and safety' grounds is one of our most popular myths and actually appears in our top 10 all-time worst health and safety excuses.

As far back as 2008, HSE made clear the law does not stop graduates having fun and celebrating their success in the time-honoured fashion. The chance of being injured by a flying mortarboard is incredibly small and it's over the top to impose an outright ban. We usually find the concern is actually about the hats being returned in good condition.

– HSE's head of public sector Geoff Cox

Plans for the mimed photographs were initially sent to third and fourth-year law students by Penguin Photography, who said the digital versions ensured students' faces would not be obscured by the falling hats.

But the offer was criticised by the president of the university's Law Society.

If I've paid £45 to hire a bit of cloth and card for the day I should be able to chuck my hat in the air.

It's nothing worse than the weekly ritual of dodging VKs as they're lobbed across the LCR dance floor.

– Law Society president Louisa Baldwin

Penguin Photography told ITV News it would "much prefer" to take the mortarboard-throwing pictures but has to "comply with the university's wishes".

Penguin Photography has been providing graduation photos to various universities for over 20 years. We normally do two photos – a formal photograph, followed by a mortar board-throwing photograph. For this year we were asked by UEA not to do the photo of students throwing their mortar boards in the air, due to safety reasons and at the request of the company that hires out the mortar boards.

Rather than lose this classic photograph completely, we have offered to continue the mortar board-throwing photograph tradition by offering to Photoshop the hats in afterwards. We have actually reduced the price of this second photograph in recognition of it not being ideal, although we have been misreported as charging extra this year and profiteering from the situation which is completely false. We would much prefer to do these photos the traditional way but have to comply with the university’s wishes.

– Penguin Photography spokesperson