Seven top health and safety tips for teachers and lecturers

Seven top health and safety tips for teachers and lecturers

When deciding which health and safety policies should be introduced in an educational environment, an employer should carry out a risk management assessment to identify, analyse, review, and monitor risks. For example, an employer may identify that pupils could burn themselves on a radiator and take appropriate steps such as introduce a radiator cover to reduce the risk of harm.

We first highlight some of the key factors for consideration throughout our article, and also share our seven top health and safety tips for all involved in education provision to keep in mind.

Risk assessment and identification

In a school or higher learning environment, many areas may be deemed low risk, for example, an English classroom. The risk might increase in other departments, for example in a science lab or art workshop or physical activity area. The hazards for these areas will be distinctly different to a classroom, which need to be reviewed, assessed and reasonable precautions should be put in place to reduce the risk of harm.

What to consider for school trips

School trips can have lots of benefits for pupils – a short trip to a local attraction, or a few days away to a city to learn about the culture brings great educational gain, however it also creates very different risks. There are legal obligations for monitoring health and safety while off school premises. A risk assessment should be completed in preparation for such trips. The assessment will include a list of realistic risks and what systems will be put in place to reduce the risks or eliminate them altogether. Clear communication with parents is also essential.

Hazard reduction

Teachers and lecturers should consider the risks and put precautions in place to reduce the risks from hazards. Senior managers in schools and colleges carry the responsibility for effective health and safety management. Headteachers in schools and colleges have a duty to abide by the terms of the safety policies and to ensure that risk assessments have been carried out.

While heads of department, class teachers and lecturers have statutory and contractual obligations to cooperate with their employers about health and safety matters, no teacher should take on any health and safety task which they believe to be beyond the limit of their competence.

Teachers and lecturers can discharge a contractual obligation to carry out a risk assessment by identifying and bringing to the attention of their employer those areas where they do not believe themselves to be competent to carry out the assessment. This may be, for example, reporting certain injuries under the RIDDOR legislation.

Seven useful tips for teachers and lecturers to keep in mind to stay compliant are:

  1. Ensure the environment is safe (e.g. is the classroom kept free of hazards (e.g. trip or fall hazards)?) and that maintenance issues are being addressed.
  2. Prepare to familiarise yourself with emergency response plans (including critical alarms) in the event of an unfortunate accident or incident.
  3. Be aware of the physical environment around the school, college or university and any possible threats including potential intruders to ensure security.
  4. Keep up to date with key procedures in relation to stress, violence or bullying within (or outwith, for online bullying) the classroom.
  5. Ensure clear communication between staff, visitors and students to ensure data is being utilised for key decision making and keeping health and safety at the top of the agenda.
  6. Adopt positive approaches which model and reward safe behaviour within a safe and supportive environment.
  7. Involve young people in real decisions to help them stay safe such as risk assessments.

The burden on schools, colleges and universities to comply with health and safety law is a heavy one but it is essential to avoid unnecessary risks being taken and to try to avoid harm which causes death or injury. The added complexity of corporate parenting obligations of educational institutions adds to the red tape and density of assessing risk and ensuring compliance.

Legal advice in such situations is paramount and invaluable to ensure the regulatory landscape is appropriately navigated. Should you have any questions relating to your health and safety obligations our expert, James McMillan, will be happy to help.

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