What do we need to do to manage Health and Safety in Schools and Colleges?
The school or college's employer needs to implement a Safety Management System (SMS) which effectively controls the risks associated with its work activities. Successful implementation of the SMS will not only make it less likely that someone will have an accident, but also reduce the likelihood of criminal or civil litigation against the employer. At the heart of any safety management system is the Health and Safety Policy. This document should provide direction on the health and safety aims of the organisation, who is responsible for undertaking tasks and how they are to be completed.
In order to be able to develop the college or school's health and safety policy and procedures it is essential for the employer to appreciate the risks arising from its undertaking. This can be acheived through risk profiling. It is important to gather information on all of the school or college's activities including:
- educational visits;
- productions & fund raising events;
- building/site occupation & use;
- building maintenance & inspection;
- plant & equipment maintenance & inspection;
- administration & back office functions (e.g. first aid etc.).
Depending on how the risk profiling exercise is undertaken it will provide a list of activities, the main hazards arising from the activities and the key tasks which need to be undertaken to ensure safety. The School or College's senior management team will then have to decide who is going to be responsible for the identified key tasks. This information can then be included in the health and safety policy along with more generic information on the different roles' responsibilities.The risk profiling information can also be used for identifying where risk assessments need to be completed and where the risk is insufficient to warrant an assessment. This can prove helpful in the defence of a civil claim for an accident for which there is no risk assessment due to the low level of risk.
It is likely that a number of managers and staff will have been allocated tasks for which they have little or no competence. It will therefore be necessary to identify what the required competencies are for the various roles in the school or college. This exercise should include every role in the organisation including the school/college's governing body/board of trustees. Once the competencies have been identified a matching exercise can be undertaken against all the people in each role to identify their training and development needs. One area of competence which should be addressed early in the development of the college or school's safety management system is that of the legally required competent person.
As managers begin to acheive the required competencies they can begin to to systematically evaluate what safety measures are required for each of the identified activities. This process is known as risk assessment. It is key to modern safety management techniques. The risk assessments will identify what could cause harm and how the risk that harm might materialise could be eliminated or reduced. It is likely that the risk assessment process will identify further development needs for the staff undertaking the activities. The findings of the risk assessments will then feed into the further development of the college or school's health and safety policy and procedures.
Once the risks have been assessed and the control measures implemented, the next stage in the safety management system is monitoring the effectiveness of the selected control measures. There will be a very large list of issues which need to be inspected and tested. Some of these can be performed in-house others will require specialist external assistance. The school or college will need to establish a system for collecting information on accidents and near misses. It is recommended that they also establish a hazard reporting system, so that employees can formally report any hazards/faults they identify.
A key element in whether or not the SMS will be effective is the organisation's employees. Legally employers must consult with their employees regarding their health and safety. This can be acheived through formal health and safety committees or more informally through staff meetings. It is also important to have effective channels to communicate information on health and safety to the school/college's employees. The health and safety policy should include information on the processes for consultation and communication.
If the School or College shares its site with another employer it will need to set-up arrangements to ensure that each party is aware of the risks which the other's work activities cause and the control measures which are in place to protect them. Depending on the nature of the relationship it may be necessary to agree joint safety measures for some activities (e.g. emergency procedures etc.).
The final stage of the SMS is to review the effectiveness of:
- individual control measures.
- risk control systems;
- the SMS as a whole.
The findings of reviews should then lead to changes in policy, risk assessments, procedures, competency requirements etc. eventually cycling around to review again.