In February 2014 the Government produced guidance for schools on Health and Safety here. It is refreshing to see the government trying to remove bureaucracy for school leaders and clarify that the management of health and safety is about common sense. At page 3 the guidance refers to removing the need for paperwork and it also refers to reducing the fears of teachers in relation to legal action. To date, as far as I am aware there have only been two occasions where individual staff have been in trouble with the law because of negligence in relation to Health and Safety. These two cases were the Glenridding tragedy reported here which resulted in a teacher being jailed for manslaughter and a second case here, which resulted in a headteacher being fined. It is therefore true to say that in pretty much all cases where the issue of negligence is being pursued, the respondent will be the school or authority employing the teacher and not the individual teacher.
My concern with the guidance in relation to reducing paperwork though is this. Whenever there is legal case brought against a school the evidence which really holds weight in court, is that which is on paper. Risk assessments, copies of planning documentation, training certificates and a trail of signatures showing that a breadth of people have been involved in planning and reviewing. It doesn’t have to be copious in quantity but nevertheless, a written record is strong evidence indeed that a school has taken reasonable precautions. This link shows the current range of cases brought against schools.
So what can you do to review safety in your school.
Make sure you have in place whole school risk assessments covering the main causes of injury as identified by the HSE. These apply across all industries and include:
- Slips trips and falls
- Falls from a height
- Manual handling
- Chemical injuries
Review the risk assessments you have in place that apply to schools. These might include:
- DSE Display Screen Equipment
- Adverse Weather
- Use of electric tools
- Use of hand tools
- Electrical safety
- First aid
- Lone working
- Movement around school
- Out of hours activities
- Working at height
- Vulnerable people and PEEP plans
Give copies of the RAs to those people they apply to and ask them to review them. That ensures they are aware of them and saves you the job of writing hundreds of RAs.
Review the training people have had and ensure there is an annual cycle of re-evaluation.
Make sure everyone has had Risk Assessment Training. Most teachers will need to understand this skill at a class level, especially PE, Science and technology teachers.