Responsibility for health and safety in sixth form colleges

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places overall responsibility for health and safety with the employer. In a sixth form college this will be the college corporation. 

All employers have a duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable: 

  • the health, safety and welfare of teachers and other staff 

  • the health and safety of students both on campus and on off-site visits 

  • the health and safety of volunteers involved in any college activity. 

Managing health and safety in sixth form colleges on a day-to-day basis involves the delegation of management responsibilities to specific employees within the college. Having a management responsibility for health and safety matters does not mean that the employer’s legal obligations and duties have also been transferred to this member of staff. Ultimate legal responsibility remains with the college corporation, as employer.  

In Wales, sixth form colleges are part of the Further Education sector but, unlike in England, are not a legally distinct category. 

When control of sixth form colleges was ceded from local authorities (LAs) to individual corporations, colleges were no longer able to benefit from LA advice on health and safety matters. Moreover, college employers have had to draw up, and periodically update, their own health and safety policies and risk assessments, no longer being covered by LA provisions in this regard. 

In order to discharge its health and safety responsibilities, a corporation must: 

  • have a health and safety policy and arrangements to implement it, and 

  • assess the risks of all activities, introduce measures to manage all those risks and tell their employees about the measures (in compliance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999). 

These duties and responsibilities for health and safety within the college are statutory obligations and cannot be waived or ignored. 

The health and safety policy document in sixth form colleges

The fundamental document underpinning employers’ health and safety management systems is the employer’s health and safety policy statement, and this is a requirement of the 1974 Act. 

The statement should begin with the employer’s commitment to meeting its health and safety responsibilities, and then should set out details of: 

  • the organisational and management structure for health and safety, including the responsibilities of particular managers and other employees for health and safety matters 

  • the consultative structure for health and safety, setting out the ways in which the employer will consult employees and safety reps 

  • the procedures to be followed and the standards to be reached in order to ensure that the employer’s responsibilities for health and safety are met 

  • the arrangements for monitoring and review 

  • any supplementary statements to be implemented and followed in particular parts of the employer’s organisation. 

Minimum standards for college premises

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 apply to workplaces of all kinds, including sixth form colleges. They set out detailed requirements for standards at the workplace in terms of heating, lighting, number of staff toilets, welfare facilities etc. 

There are specific regulations that apply to academies, sixth form colleges and independent schools, known as the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2012. Advice to help schools and colleges understand their obligations in relation to these regulations is contained in the Department for Education (DfE) document Standards for School Premises.

Key points of the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2012: 

  • Suitable toilet and washing facilities must be provided for the sole use of students. 

  • Separate toilet facilities must be provided for boys and girls (except where the toilet is in a room that can be secured from the inside and that is intended for use by one student at a time). 

  • Toilet and washing facilities for staff should be separate from those provided for students, except where they are designed for use by those who are disabled. 

  • Suitable accommodation must be provided to cater for the medical and therapy needs of students. It must include a washing facility and be near a toilet facility. It can be used for other purposes, apart from teaching, provided it is always available for medical use when needed. 

  • Lighting in each room or other internal space must be suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities that take place; and external lighting must be provided to ensure that people can safety enter and leave the premises. 

  • Suitable drinking water facilities must be provided and they will only be suitable if they are readily accessible at all times when the premises are in use and are in a separate area from the toilet facilities.