Some of you may think the topic of Health and Safety is rather boring. You have come into teaching to help teach pupils and encourage them to learn. What place does Health and Safety have then, in the life of a school leader or indeed any teacher?
Putting it simply, a lack of good Health and Safety in school can lead to people being injured or worse dead; and injured pupils don’t learn well as they tend not to be in school and dead ones do even worse!
So good health and safety procedures are essential and should be on the top of a teacher’s and educational leader’s agenda along with safeguarding. It should even come before teaching and learning.
As the senior member of staff responsible for H&S I tend to do one annual inspection and follow it up with a second inspection to check that instructions have been implemented a short while later. Don’t think for a minute that this is the only inspection taking place. The site management team should be conducting regular checks to do with fire safety and other visual checks as part of their weekly and daily routines. In fact our school has a list of things which are checked and each day the site management team do a school close down and literally walk round the whole school, they carry out one specific check and log it in writing. (Important – write down a record of checks which you do). There are also other checks going on through the year carried out by faculty leaders and teachers as part of their duties too
So what should an annual H&S audit involve? Well I do two things. Firstly there is a meeting with myself and the site manager where we review current practice and procedures. I use the checklist attached here to help us evaluate and write an action plan for the year. Secondly we do a full walk around of the site including external areas. It is difficult to provide a full list of things to check on your rounds but it is useful to understand what the main causes of risk are as this will help you focus your attention on your walkabout. Don’t worry if you are not really experienced as H&S is common sense more often than not. If it looks dangerous it probably is. If you are new to inspecting H&S get someone who has experience to do a walk around with you as you can learn a lot from others.
The main areas of risk in school are (in no particular order):
- Chemical storage and injuries.
- Collisions (with other people, fixed objects, moving objects (in PE and the car park), falling objects)
- Falls from a height.
- Manual handling injuries.
- Slips and trips.
- Work related violence
- Lone working
- Contractors on site
- Display screen equipment
So lets look at the things you might check on your walkabout. Remember not all of the things will be relevant all of the time. I tend to take a floor plan and mark off with a highlighter each room and area I have checked. You should do the same as you will be surprised how long an audit takes. You can spend a whole day doing a full audit and you might not have time to do it all in one day so a floor plan will allow you to come back and complete the inspection in stages.
- Can the fire alarm be heard in all areas of the school?
- Do all emergency lights work?
- Are all fire exits and walkways clear and unobstructed?
- Do fire doors open freely and close fully with a good seal after they have been let go?
- Electrically controlled doors will need to be tested for function.
- Is there current and clear signage.
- Are there adequate extinguishers and alarms points.
- Is there adequate smoke detection. Think here about the use of a room. Toilets and wash areas with high humidity don’t have smoke detection but often schools stop using a toilet and might start using it as a store. In this case the room has changed function and should have smoke detection fitted.
- Are light fittings, heaters, boilers and electrical fixtures clear of combustibles and do they have adequate ventilation. A common one I find is paper stored on high shelves close to a light fitting as well as teachers storing huge amounts of resources and packing them round, for example, electrical units.
- Is the structure of the room intact. Check for missing tiles, holes in walls, missing window panes etc.. Remember, fires are contained in building by ensuring rooms are sealed containers. a fire in a room with closed windows and doors should burn itself out in minutes but if some kid has kicked a hole in a fire door , this will provide a rich source of oxygen to keep the fire burning.
- Check that external storage of chemicals, rubbish, timber etc are placed well away from the building. Remember that the main cause of fires in schools is arson so keep your external fuel sources away from the building.
- There are plenty of rules and regulations about storing chemicals which your technical staff should be able to advise you on.
- I tend to ensure that flammables are stored in appropriate containers (fire proof or metal), items are clearly labelled, excess storage of chemicals is kept to a minimum, staff access is controlled and pupils should not be able to access them at all without supervision.
- Is an inventory maintained?
- Are Data and Hazard cards available?
- Check that vehicles and pedestrians are kept well apart preferably by some form of physical barrier.
- ensure that movement around the school is safe. You might need to consider putting in rules about flow of people to avoid crushes at times when lots of people are moving at one time. Stairs are especially dangerous at high flow times. If you are looking for rules on flow of people, your fire evacuation routes will be a good start.
- Check that PE have adequate facilities to ensure that pupils are not moving at speed in close proximity which can increase the likelihood of collisions. Indoor cricket should utilise nets to avoid damage from rogue cricket balls too.
Falls from height
- Check access to roofs is restricted.
- Check flat roofs and fragile surfaces are clearly identified.
- Sky lights and roof openings should be barricaded off if access to the roof space is needed regularly.
- In classrooms with high storage do staff have access to mini step ladders or an elephant stool, and is the equipment serviceable?
- If large step ladders or full ladders are used does the person using them have working at height training?
- Do staff that work in rooms where manual handling is used have training?
- Is there adequate equipment available for staff such as stair climbers, trolleys?
- Do classroom staff ensure that heavy items are stored low down with lighter items stored higher up? Hint – examine the storage areas in your rooms and consider if the smallest frailest member of staff could lift an item off a shelf.
- If you have an older school it will have asbestos in it. Do you have a clear asbestos plan of the school?
- Are staff notified of the existence of asbestos in school.
- Check the substrate of the building is in good order. Remember most asbestos will be hidden away in building materials, if items are crumbling, smashed or broken this may be a cause of danger.
- Does someone have responsibility for signing off permission to work documentation. Hint – check your technicians and ICT network staff are trained as they may well unwittingly start drilling holes to run cables and put shelves up.
Slips and Trips
- Check floor surfaces for integrity and evenness. Don’t forget outside too. Hint – carpet edges, door thresholds, stair edges, floor tiles are common areas of concerns
- Pay attention to stairs. Hint – dropped flagstones, damaged stair treads and root egress are common areas of concern.
- Consider if surfaces need anti slip finishes applying to them
- Is there adequate use of handrails on slopes and stairs?
- In areas where splashes can occur is there facility to wipe up spills immediately.
- Is their adequate signage available to warn people of wet flooring?
- Is there drinking water available?
- Are there adequate washing facilities with safe hot water supplies?
- Is lighting adequate and do any lights need repairing?
- Is the control of temperature acceptable. Hint – there is no upper temperature limit set in law but be honest with yourself, could you work in that hot classroom everyone talks about. Consider the use of opening windows, fans or air conditioning.
- Do areas have adequate access to first aid supplies?
- Is there adequate first aid cover in each area?
- Is medication stored correctly, clearly labelled with appropriate documentation?
Work Related Violence/Lone working
- Is their a clear procedure for staff at risk of violence from pupils or members of the public. Hint – a risk assessment should be available. You might consider meeting in pairs, notifying reception of meetings and suspected end times, use of rape alarms to raise help.
- Likewise, are their clear procedures for staff working alone. Hint – staff undertaking dangerous work should work in pairs or be checked regularly. eg. working on a roof, undertaking significant building work or hot works.
Contractors on site
- Are procedures in place for selecting contractors based on competency rather than cost alone?
- Are contractors required to communicate control measures.
- Does the school check the contractors insurance, certification of competency, safety policy and get references for work undertaken?
- Does the school monitor external contractor and intervene where it feels there is an unacceptable risk being taken?
- Check for damaged wiring or equipment.
- Check for correct use of electrical equipment.
- Check all equipment has an annual certification certificate (PAT test). Hint – remove items not checked or staff will continue to use them.
- Check the
- Check that adaptor blocks are not in use. plug extension boards are fine but they need to be double insulated and fused but it is better to have adequate plug sockets in the first place. Hint – you can add this sort of work onto your list of modifications for the next holiday.
- Are gas shuts offs clearly marked and working?
- Check cables are clear of walkways and secured neatly.
- Oxygen and fuel cylinders are locked in cages and separate from each other.
Display Screen Equipment
- Users of display screen equipment should have access to a self assessment document to allow them to assess their work space.
- Users who have identified medical problems associated with posture might benefit from an assessment by a qualified assessor.
- A record of water checks are kept.
- Water systems are flushed regularly. Hint – you might find sections of old pipework that have become defunct. These will hold stagnant water and should be removed.
Finally, a word about housekeeping. A tidy classroom is generally a safe classroom. On your walkabout give some consideration to what each room looks like. Graffiti, chewing gum, general damage/wear and tear, damage to paintwork etc can actually encourage pupils to be less careful of looking after their environment. I have a rule in my school. If it is broken it gets fixed straight away or removed until it is. Teachers always seem to hoard resources and you need to make sure there is adequate storage for it all. Sometimes it means telling them to have a clear out, at other times it might mean more robust shelving. Remember to check if it is likely that teachers can safely access resources in terms of lifting and climbing and make sure items are not at risk of falling on people.
Don’t forget to issue your written report to all staff so that everyone is aware. I normally highlight in the report specific people who need to remedy anything I have highlighted. AND – don’t forget to do a follow up check and go and see if your directions/recommendations have been actioned.