School’s out! With the end of the academic year fast approaching many teachers and parents are thinking of the long summer break ahead but work goes on in many schools undertaking construction projects. It is often a busy time in school as construction projects and maintenance activities traditionally take place during this period while the pupils are away. With non-routine activities taking place on school premises there can be an increased risk for things to go wrong which is why it is important to ensure health and safety controls are not forgotten.
The responsibility for the management of health and safety in schools legally rests with the employer. The employer will be the local authority in respect of community, voluntary controlled and maintained schools. The governing body of foundation and voluntary aided schools is the employer whilst health and safety at academies rests with the academy trust. However, the normal day-to-day running of a school is delegated to the head teacher or principal and the school senior management team, all of whom will have some health and safety responsibilities. These responsibilities are normally set out in the statement of general policy on health and safety developed by the school and approved by the governing body. It is also important to remember that teachers and classroom assistants, like all employees, have a duty to look after their own and others’ health and safety under s.7 The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The main piece of legislation governing health and safety is The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 which places duties on employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. A similar duty applies to persons in control of premises in respect of people using those premises which would include contractors, parents and pupils. Schools and school staff also have a duty under common law to take care of pupils in the same way that a prudent parent would do so. In addition to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 there are many regulations which set out more specific requirements. For example, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in order to put in place appropriate controls.
When undertaking construction work schools need to ensure that they have adequately assessed the contractor who will undertake the works as well as providing adequate supervision and control. Whilst the construction sector only accounts for 5% of employment it is responsible for almost a quarter of fatal accidents and 10% of major injuries. Schools must make sure that they have put in place effective health and safety management for construction activities taking place during the summer holiday period.
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 were introduced in April 2015 and replaced previous provisions for construction projects. The new regulations place more responsibility on the client (those who commission the project such as schools). Where the school is the client it will have the following duties during the construction project;
- Make suitable arrangements for managing the project,
- Ensuring that they appoint appropriate people and organisations with suitable skills, knowledge, ability, training and experience,
- Ensuring sufficient resources are allocated,
- Ensure effective communication between all appointed persons (client, designer, principal contractor and contractors),
- Ensure that the principal designer and principal contractor comply with their duties,
- Ensure that the health and safety performance of the principal designer and principal contractor is maintained during the project, and
- Ensure suitable welfare facilities are provided.
Often health and safety support during construction projects is provided by the local authority for maintained schools. Academies and multi-academy trusts will often need to source such support from external consultants unless suitable competent staff are already appointed within the organisation. During supervisory visits schools should ensure that contractors are complying with the Construction Phase Plan – a document which sets out the health and safety arrangements. Where breaches are identified the school should raise these with the principal contractor and record in writing the actions taken. Such records will often be inspected during visits by enforcement agencies especially following an accident.
- Has the school prepared a client’s brief for the project?
- Has the school assessed the contractor’s competence?
- How will the school supervise the construction during the holiday period?
- Has the school made the contractor aware of any asbestos containing materials on site?
- Has the project been notified to the Health and Safety Executive?
- Has the school seen and reviewed the construction phase plan?
If your school requires advice on health and safety please contact us for practical advice.