How to Carry out a Health and Safety Risk Assessment in your School

There’s been plenty of change for school processes and procedures recently. But there’s one thing that you can’t run away from – health and safety risk assessments. While it might not be the most exciting task on the school roster, it is one of the most crucial. And like with lots of tasks, there are ways to make it a bit easier for yourselves to save everyone time and headaches where possible! So, what does it entail, who carries it out and what should be in it?

The importance of health and safety risk assessment in schools

It’s not just schools, every industry has its own version of a health and safety risk assessment. It’s one of the most important parts of the business organisation and it does also happen to be a legal requirement. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, schools have general duties to carry out to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees and everyone else on the premises. Kids are a wonderful combination of daring and accident prone, so for schools, making sure that risks are minimised is obviously of utmost importance. Worried parents could be worse to face than the law at times we’re sure!

But what does that mean in practical terms? Well for starters, it means there are things you need to do to protect the kids as well as the teachers and anyone else visiting the school. It includes things like fire safety regulations and even COSHH and manual handling in some cases – a couple of classes worth of science workbooks are deceptively heavy!

Who should carry out a risk assessment in School?

Not a silly question, and not quite as black and white as it can be for a regular business when the owner has the responsibility to carry out a risk assessment. After all, who owns the school? Well with schools, the owner is usually the local authority. And usually they are represented by the governing body or the Academy Trust in the case of academies. This could be the college corporation in the example of Sixth Form or Further Education colleges.

However, a more practical approach is usually taken. The ‘owner’ will delegate someone to manage the process on the site and to handle the risk assessment and implementation of its findings. This person needs to be a competent person who can be relied on, so headteachers or deputy heads are popular choices. Getting the kids in detention to do it won’t impress OFSTED (even if it might teach some good life skills).

While different roles within the school are usually paired with different responsibilities, that doesn’t mean that the person responsible necessarily has to do each action. For example:

  • Headteachers – responsible for health and safety in schools as well as promoting the safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff. They are also responsible for making sure the school complies with risk assessment findings. But obviously headteachers can have a lot on, and delegation is a key factor in successful leadership and they don’t necessarily have to carry out the risk assessment themselves.
  • Deputy and assistant headteachers – often have duties delegated to them from the headteacher and this can include carrying out the risk assessment
  • Heads of department – can be asked to take part in the risk assessment but don’t necessarily carry out the entire process
  • Classroom teachers – may volunteer to contribute to the process and have a duty to carry out the recommendations
  • Non-teaching staff – may be required to undertake risk assessments if this is part of their contract

How to carry out a health and safety risk assessment in school

Once you’ve chosen your ‘competent person’ to carry out the risk assessment, you can turn your attention to the actual process and what needs to be done.

The simplest way of looking at a risk assessment is that it’s a careful examination of any hazards within the school, what harm they could cause and what needs to be done to sort them out. Or if you like:

  • ‘hazard’ – potential to cause harm - such as chemicals in the chemistry lab, electricity, or ladders used by maintenance staff to maintain the property
  • ‘risk’ – the chance that someone will be harmed by the hazard - such as spilling the chemical on themselves, tripping over the ladder while it is being used, or sticking their finger in a socket. To best handle the risk assessment, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has drafted up a five-step plan to follow. By using this as the basis for a risk assessment, you can be confident you’re covering all the key areas.

Step 1 - Look for the hazards

In schools, it’s not just science labs that can be hazardous! In fact, the hazards are plentiful and may include the pupils. Hazards can be behavioural and psychosocial as well as physical. That means anything from abusive behaviour to a slippery staircase. Get creative looking for those hazards and even go a bit over the top – better to be over prepared than miss something.

Step 2 - Who and how someone might be harmed

Next look at who and how someone might be harmed by each hazard. For example, are people working alone more at risk of certain hazards? Could trainee members of staff be more vulnerable to a type of hazard? Or is it simply that anyone encountering it could be at risk – it’s unlikely that your slippery floor will discriminate who it sends flying.

The second part of this is to look at the three-tier approach to handling the risk:

  1. Remove the hazard entirely or change the process that creates it
  2. Modify the workplace to reduce the risk and make it less hazardous or reduce the length of potential exposure to the hazard
  3. Introduce protective measures such as protective equipment or drawing attention to the hazard

Step 3 – evaluate the risks and act on the findings

Once the hazards are detailed and the steps needed to remedy them are lined up, your school then needs to act on the findings. Responsibility for implementing the steps are with the employer, headteacher and sometimes specialists handling a particular process, such as fire safety.

Step 4 – record the findings

If there are five or more employees, then a detail of the findings needs to be kept on the premises to show what has been done to reduce risks and hazards.

Step 5 – review the assessment periodically

A schedule should be set to review the assessment and see if there are new hazards, if some have been removed or if new solutions are needed.

Using a safety management system to help

As you can see, there’s quite a lot to do to manage a health and safety risk assessment. As the person doing it, you can easily end up buried under a pile of paperwork. But there is a simpler solution – using a safety management system.

What’s a safety management system? Well, it’s a specialist system that allows you to cover all aspects of the risk assessment, the steps taken, and the documents created regarding it. It makes the whole process simpler and easier for anyone to access as required, meaning you can spend as little time on the process as needed. 

Need a safety management system in your school, or want to find out more about ours? 

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