Leicester NUT Section of the NEU

A Quick Guide to Health and Safety in Your School

Andrew Haynes, September 2010

Health & Safety Representatives

The NUT (and all other recognised unions) has the right to appoint or elect an H&S representative from amongst its members. This person would normally be expected to have two years teaching experience but this is not completely essential. You must inform your head teacher or principal of the appointment.

Once appointed the safety rep has the legal right to:

  • investigate potential hazards and dangerous occurrences and examine the causes of accidents at the workplace;
  • investigate complaints by any employee they represent;
  • make representations to the employer on matters arising out of the above;
  • make representations to the employer on general matters affecting health, safety and welfare at work;
  • carry out inspections of the workplace in a variety of circumstances; and
  • represent employees in consultations at the workplace with HSE inspectors and receive information from them.

A safety rep should also be consulted about any change in working practices that affects health & safety.

A safety rep should be given time off with pay to carry out these functions.

In practice an H&S rep can do as much or as little as they like within the remit of the job. It must be emphasised that they have rights - not responsibilities - and cannot be held to blame if something goes wrong.

It's better to have a safety rep in a school who does not want to be very active than no safety rep at all so that they do have the accepted status and rights to take action should it be necessary.

Training

An appointed H&S representative has the right to paid time off from their job to attend a training course organised by their professional body. The NUT runs an excellent training course three times a year at Stoke Rochford Hall near Grantham. This is a residential course that lasts for five days. Training can also be organised at a local level for reps who are unable to take the time away from home and work.

Health & Safety Committees

A school must set up an H&S committee if the head or principal is asked to do so by two or more Safety Reps. Leicester CYPS encourage and expect schools to have an H&S committee. The membership of a committee is open to negotiation but it should consist of roughly equal numbers of managers and employees and one member should be a member of Senior Management with sufficient authority to make decisions. An H&S representative should expect to be a member of the committee. The committee should meet regularly, usually 3 or 4 times a year during normal working time.

The role of the committee may vary depending on the circumstances of each institution. Typically it may:

  • study school accident statistics
  • Investigate the causes of accidents
  • Examine the reports following H&S inspections
  • Assist in the development of safety rules and safe systems of working.

Safety Inspections

An H&S representative has the right to carry out safety inspections termly, or more often in the event of an accident or a change in working practice. They should give the head reasonable notice that they intend to carry out an inspection and discuss what the focus of the inspection will be and how it will be carried out. Sometimes it may be an advantage to carry out an inspection jointly with other Safety Reps and/or management representatives but a Safety Rep has the right to carry out a solo inspection if they wish, although a representative of the management may choose to walk round with them.

Although inspections typically involve a tour of the building they may also include an examination of documents relating to H&S or a study of working practices etc.

A short report of the findings of the inspection should be written afterwards. This should be submitted to the head, the person responsible for managing H&S if this is not the head, the local authority H&S officer and the NUT H&S Adviser.

Heating

Teaching areas should be maintained at a minimum temperature of 18C throughout the time that they are in use. There is no provision that the temperature may be lower at the start of the day providing that it reaches 18C by (say) 10am as is sometimes thought. Sick rooms or other areas where physical activity is reduced should be at a minimum of 21C. Areas like gymnasia where there may be increased activity must not be colder than 15C. These are legally binding minimum temperatures for school premises. The minimum temperature for other places of work is 16C.

Sadly there isn't a legal maximum working temperature although the World Health Organisation recommends 24C for comfortable indoor working. The NUT is campaigning for a maximum temperature of 26C. Employers do have a duty to ensure that working temperatures are "reasonable".

Ventilation

Ventilation requirements for schools are laid down in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999. These state that all occupied areas in a school building shall have controllable ventilation at a minimum rate of 3 litres of fresh or purified air per second for each of the maximum number of persons the area will accommodate.

Teaching accomodation shall also be capable of being ventilated at a maximum rate of 8 litres of fresh air per second for each of the usual number of people in these areas when they are occupied.

It may be that open windows are sufficent to provide adequate ventilation but if there are no windows that open a mechanical method of providing air must be provided.

Lighting

All work places most have "suitable and sufficient" lighting. This does not mean natural lighting. Lighting levels should be slightly lower in areas where computer monitors are being used and reflections off the screen should not make it difficult to see. If this is a problem blinds should be provided.

Toilets and Washing Facilities

Toilets must be provided for staff that is separate from those provided for pupils. There must be separate facilities for male and female staff unless each toilet is in its own room. They must be readily accessible, clean, adequately lit and ventilated. There must be suitable washing facilities close to every toilet. There are rules governing how many toilets and washbasins must be provided depending on the number of staff.

Staff Rooms etc.

Schools must provide staff with an area for work and relaxation. There must also be somewhere you can eat a meal and there must be facilities for obtaining a hot drink.

As the area must be suitable for relaxation this clearly must be separate from areas provided for students.
There must also be somewhere appropriate for storing outside coats during the day. This must be warm, dry and well ventilated so that garments can dry during the day

Asbestos

The NUT believes that all asbestos should be removed from schools however this is a costly and time consuming process. Most authorities believe that asbestos is safe providing that it is properly managed and maintained. All schools are required to keep records of where asbestos is in the building and results of regular inspections. Health & Safety representatives have the right to see these records and they are recommended to ask to inspect them.

CLASP constructed buildings that were erected mainly from the late '60s to the 80's are particularly likely to contain asbestos sealed within their structure. Particular causes of asbestos contamination is damage is around window frames or supporting pillars it may mean that microscopic asbestos fibres can escape into the atmosphere. If these fibres are inhaled and become lodged in the lungs they may cause a form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma.

Asbestos insulating board may be present in walls and ceilings. Care must be taken never to put drawing pins etc. into these boards as it may cause fibres to be released into the atmosphere.

A number of teachers in England and Wales die of asbestos related illnesses every year. If you believe that work in or have worked at a school that contained asbestos, particularly of the maintenance regime was suspect, you are advised to keep a record of your possible exposure to asbestos to help with any future compensation claim.

Interactive Whiteboards

You should be given training before you are asked to use interactive whiteboards. There is a potential risk to eyesight associated with the use of data projectors, even if you don't look directly into the light beam. The following guidelines should be followed:

  • Never stare directly into the projector beam.
  • Keep your back to the beam as much as possible, and avoid standing facing into the beam for more than a few seconds at a time.
  • Always step outside the projector beam when turning to face the class for more than a few seconds.

Risk Assessments

Although teachers are likely to carry out informal risk assessments on a daily basis there is no contractual obligation for a teacher who does not have management responsibilities to undertake formal risk assessments. They may, however, agree to assist in the process if they want to. Undertaking a formal risk assessment does not imply any legal responsibility in the event of a subsequent accident.

Construction Work

Safety Reps should be consulted during the planning and execution of any construction project. Important points to be aware of are:

  • The work should be separated from staff and students normal activities. A secure fence, at least 1.8m high, should be between a building site and areas accessible by staff, students and members of the public.
  • Dust and unpleasant fumes should not be allowed to enter areas occupied for school activities.
  • Construction vehicles should not cross any areas open to staff or students whilst the school is in session.
  • Construction workers should not be allowed to communicate with students.

Trips & Visits

The participation of a teacher in a school trip or visit is entirely voluntary unless the trip forms part of the curriculum that the teacher is responsible for. A teacher participating in a trip has the same basic duty of care that they have at any other time. This means in practice that a teacher must:

  • ensure supervision of the pupils throughout the journey or visit according to professional standards and common sense; and
  • take reasonable steps to avoid exposing pupils to dangers which are foreseeable and beyond those with which the particular pupils can reasonably be expected to cope.

If the trip involves any activity that could be considered hazardous the trip organiser is advised to use an independent organiser who has been assessed and certified as proficient for the activity.

Organisers of foreign trips are advice to ensure that they are fully familiar with the health & safety legislation of the country they are visiting as it may well be different to that of the UK.

If a trip involves both male and female students then there should also be at least one male and female member of staff present. A qualified first aider should also accompany the trip.

Mobile Phones and Wireless Networks

There is no evidence to suggest that there is any danger associated with electromagnetic radiation used by mobile phones and wireless networks. It has been recommended that laptops should be used on a desk or table and not actually on a persons lap.

The possession by students of mobile phones in school should be discouraged because of the potential misuse of cameras etc.

Falls

Trips and other falls are some of the most common accidents in schools. Obviously wearing suitable shoes can help minimise the risk. It is important to make sure that all passage ways and staircases are well lit and free from obstruction. Floor surfaces should be well maintained and water or other spillages should be cleared up promptly.

You should not climb on chairs, tables or other equipment that is not designed for the job to reach up to high objects such as displays and windows. If you need to reach up make sure that you use a kick stool or stepladder as appropriate and never stretch to reach something. Try to make sure that someone else is in the room with you or at least within calling distance.

Stress

Stress has been described by the HSE as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them". Although stress itself is not a disease, it is recognised that excessive or prolonged stress can be a cause of mental and physical illness.

It is likely that all teachers will be affected by stress at some point in their careers. If you begin to feel that you are reaching the point where you can no longer cope it's important to realise that you are not alone and that it's not your fault. Try to find someone that you can talk to about how you are feeling. If you feel that you can't cope your line manager needs to know. They should try to make arrangements to help you reduce the causes of your stress. If your school hasn't been told that you have a problem they can't be expected to help. Also tell your school H&S rep or Association H&S adviser so that they are aware of the situation.

First Aid

Schools should have a qualified first aider available at all times when the school is open. In practice this will mean that more than one member of staff needs to be trained to cover for absence or unavailability. The first aider should be stationed in the medical room which should be clearly sign posted.

A teacher may be trained as a first aider if they wish but they should not act as the designated first aider for the school as it cannot be part of their contract and it would be difficult for them to leave their class in case of emergency.

The first aid room should be easily accessible, warm, well ventilated and close to toilet and washing facilities. It should be well stocked with appropriate medical supplies. Areas in which accidents are more likely (e.g. PE, Design, and Science) should have their own qualified first aider and a properly stocked first aid box.

Fire Safety

Schools should have carried out a risk assessment to identify possible sources of fire and taken steps to minimise the danger. Fire extinguishers should be checked and serviced at least annually. All fire escape routes must be clearly signed and kept clear of obstruction. Fire escape doors should never be locked whilst the school is occupied. Notices giving details of evacuation procedures should be clearly displayed. Fire alarm buttons should be easily accessible and the fire alarm system should be checked weekly. A fire drill should be held at least once a term.

Teachers should make themselves aware of all the details of the fire safety arrangements. If the fire alarm sounds they should do their best to make sure that the building is evacuated without putting themselves at risk. It is advisable for teaching staff to receive training in the use of fire extinguishers but they should only use them to help students and other adults escape from the building and not to fight a fire for any other reason. Likewise if a teacher volunteers to be trained to use an evac chair they should not put themselves at risk whilst using it.