Health and Safety
All schools have a duty to comply with the legal requirements outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its associated regulations. Education employers have duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of teachers, education staff, pupils – both in school and during off-site visits – visitors, volunteers and contractors.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national watchdog and regulator for work-related health, safety and illness. They acknowledge that health and safety can be unnecessarily bureaucratic and they are seeking to restore a simpler and more proportionate approach to health and safety regulation – visit their web site Health and safety made simple (HSE) to see how you can simply cover the minimum essential requirements for health and safety documentation and practice.
Advice from the Department for Education (DfE)
The government provides advice for schools which can be accessed here. The advice applies to school employers, headteachers and school staff in academies, free and maintained schools, independent schools and local authorities.
Responsibility for health and safety in schools
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related regulations require every employee to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and of other persons – pupils and visitors – who may be affected by their acts or omissions whilst at work.
Legal responsibility and accountability for health and safety lies with the employer but who this is varies between types of schools:
- In the independent sector, the proprietor, Board of Trustees, or equivalent is the employer.
- For community and special schools, voluntary controlled, nursery and pupil referral units, the local authority is the employer.
- In foundation, voluntary aided, free schools and academies, the governing body is the employer.
- In the Scottish grant-aided schools which are independent of local authorities but financially supported by the state, the governing body or equivalent is the employer.
Employers must take all reasonable measures to ensure that school premises and equipment on the premises are safe to use. They are responsible for determining and approving the health and safety policy, ensuring that resources are directed to implementing the policy and for complying with any directions given by the local council or other relevant authority concerning the health and safety of persons in school, or on school activities elsewhere.
Role of school senior management in health and safety
Senior school managers involved in the day-to-day running of the school also have responsibility for the health and safety of staff and students.
Head teachers have overall responsibility within school, including day-to-day health and safety management and the implementation of the health and safety policy. Where schools choose to become more autonomous, they should appoint a school health and safety lead officer, a school governor to champion this area and a health and safety committee.
While employers may delegate specific health and safety tasks to individuals or schools, they ultimately retain overall accountability and responsibility no matter who carries out the day-to-day tasks.
Responsible person and duty holder
The terms Responsible Person and Duty Holder are commonly used in regulations. The former is the person – a named person at each school – or organisation that has clear responsibility for the maintenance or repair of the premises, usually through an explicit agreement such as a lease or contract, or the person who has control of the premises.
The Duty Holder means the employer and those in control of workplaces, who have duties under health and safety law.
Costs of health and safety management
The annual cost of statutory health and safety management and compliance in schools is significant, especially if you factor in the time devoted by the leadership team and site staff, together with bought in services such as testing and servicing.
Typically these costs might be in excess of £7,000 for a primary school and £12,000 for a secondary school (not including improvement works recommended in action plans) and should be kept under annual review.
Increased competition is forcing local authorities to reduce their service level agreement charges and there may also be opportunities to negotiate with suppliers as a school cluster or group and to pursue alternatives such as training site staff who could then serve other local schools.
The HSE and local authorities are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation. Together they ensure that duty holders manage the health and safety of their workforce and those affected by their work.
The HSE are primarily responsible for enforcing health and safety law in schools and they operate from a network of regional offices.
Inspectors visit workplaces to check that people are sticking to the rules and they may take various types of enforcement action to deal with a breach of the law: issuing informal advice; improvement or prohibition notices, or prosecution when something is seriously wrong.
How to find competent health and safety advisers
You must get help from a competent person to enable you to comply with the requirements of health and safety law. The HSE define a competent person as “someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly”.
Not all health and safety consultants are qualified or are accredited by professional bodies and you should seek competent advisors from the sources such as:
It may be worth a school considering investing in competency training for a site manager and then offering their services to other local schools.