Leicester NUT Section of the NEU

Andy Haynes, Leicester H&S Office, 9th December 2013

Health and Safety Matters - risk assessments, asbestos, Wear Something Light, winter weather, school reps

A Risky Business

One of the Health and Safety topics most likely to set people groaning and cursing is that of Risk Assessments. They have a picture of massive documents that take hours to complete, which are then shoved into a filing cabinet never to be seen or thought about again. This isn't the way it should be though. A risk assessment is an important way of identifying hazards before they can cause problems. They should always be carried out before an incident occurs, not afterwards. A manager who says after an incident that they need to carry out a risk assessment has not been doing their job properly. Risk Assessments may be carried out on places (e.g. a science lab), situations (e.g. high temperatures) or individuals (e.g. aggressive students). The risk assessment process has five steps:
Identify the Hazards
Decide who might be harmed and how
Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Record the findings and implement them
Review the assessment and update it if necessary.

This may sound quite long winded, but the good news is that teachers don't have to do them! Carrying out a formal risk assessment is not part of a classroom teacher's duty, although it may be reasonable for a head or principle to ask classroom teachers to contribute to the process. All employees have a duty in law to look after the welfare of other people and to make sure that their actions or inactions do not cause harm. A Teacher with a TLR may have to carry out Risk Assessments for their area of responsibility if it's in their job description. If this is the case, they must have been trained properly in what they have to do. A ten minute talk in a staff meeting is not sufficient! Taking part in a risk assessment may be as simple as making a list of things that a teacher sees in a classroom or elsewhere in the school that could cause harm, and it can be a valuable opportunity to draw the attention of school managers to things that are causing concern. It also means that if there is an accident, the school cannot say that they were unaware of the problem. If you do carry out a risk assessment, or assist in the process, it does not mean that you can be blamed if something goes wrong later. On the NUT website is a full NUT guide to risk assessments. A useful checklist to help you assess the risks in your classroom has been produced by the HSE.

Don't Mention the War!

Occasionally we read stories in the press of a child bringing old war time artillery shells, or the like, that still contain explosive. The danger of these is fairly easy to recognise. Recently a far more innocent seeming object was taken into a school in the south of England in the form of an old World War 2 gas mask. Unfortunately, the filter of the mask was found to contain crocidolite, the most dangerous form of asbestos. This was not discovered until it had been handled extensively and actually worn by the students and teacher. It will not be possible to say whether or not any harm has been done to anyone for many years, as it can take decades for asbestos related diseases to develop. It is very important to make sure that gas masks are not brought into schools because of the dangers of asbestos. Even the bags that they were kept in may have become contaminated by deadly asbestos fibres. In general, it's worth remembering that safety standards were not as high in the past as they are today. You may well be aware that old paint on toys can contain lead, which is poisonous, but did you know that old luminous watch dials may be radioactive? Be wary of students bringing in old things to school and, if in doubt, do not allow them into the classroom.

Be Safe, Be Bright, Wear Something Light

You probably have to be of a certain age to remember the old public information film that urged people to 'Wear something light at night' but the message is as relevant today as it ever was. As any driver knows, it can be very difficult to spot pedestrians wearing dark clothes at night. With schools holding more and more after school sessions for homework, revision, and who knows what else, children leaving school after dusk are more at risk from traffic accidents, if they are wearing dark clothes. Perversely, however, many school uniforms seem to insist that dark colour coats are worn by students. If your school has this sort of uniform policy, it would be worth raising the issue with management and perhaps suggesting that they encourage the wearing of fluorescent ,or at least light coloured, arm bands in the dark. Better still, switch to light coloured outer clothing completely.

Winter Weather

Even when the weather turns cold, and conditions in and around school buildings may become hazardous, there is no reason for teachers to put up with unsafe conditions.

Paths that students and staff have to use should not be slippery. If necessary, grit should be applied so that surfaces are safe before people arrive to start the school day.

Temperatures inside buildings must be appropriate. 16 degrees centigrade is now the legal minimum, but it's not reasonable to expect teachers and especially children to work in conditions that hinder performance and may make them ill.

School H&S Representatives

A school H& representative can be a valuable addition to the NUT team in a school. If your school does not have someone in this role and you would like to become more involved in the union, why not offer to take on the job? It needn't be onerous and the union will always provide help, support and training. In the near future the NUT H&S team at Head Office will start emailing school H&S Reps regular bulletins. If your school does not have a rep, or if their name and/or email address has not been sent to Hamilton House, you may well miss important and useful information. The next training course will be held at Stoke Rochford Hall near Grantham 3-7 February 2014. Details and application forms are available from the NUT Organising and Membership Department on 020 7380 4837. Alternatively, safety representatives can apply online


Related articles

Health & Safety Matters: New Year - Same Old Problems! (1st September 2017)
Academies Are Bad For Your Health (8th November 2016)
Health & Safety Matters - heating systems, winter, TU Reform Bill, asbestos in crayons (13th November 2015)
Health & Safety Matters (30th January 2015)
Health & Safety Matters - Stress, Industrial Action, Asbestos (22nd September 2014)
Health & Safety Matters - Pupils with medical conditions, asbestos management, gas masks and military helmets, European H&S Week (27th June 2014)
Health and Safety Matters - asbestos, mental health, medicines (17th February 2014)
Health and Safety Matters - Asbestos, Temperatures, Training (7th October 2013)
Health and Safety Matters - asbestos, school reps (3rd June 2013)
Asbestos Exposure (9th September 2009)