Legal responsibilities for risk assessment
The employer has the legal responsibility for risk assessment. In maintained schools, this means the local authority, in voluntary aided or foundation schools, the governing body, in academies which are part of a chain this is the academy trust and in stand-alone academies it is the governing body. In sixth form and FE colleges, the employer is the college corporation .
In practice, the risk assessment process will need to be delegated by the employer to individuals who manage the process and who undertake risk assessments on the employer's behalf.
The extent to which teachers should be involved in risk assessment will depend upon two things: firstly, teachers’ conditions of service and professional duties and any management responsibility which they have for health and safety matters; and secondly, whether they are competent to take part in the risk assessment process on the employer’s behalf.
Conditions of service and management responsibilities
The contractual responsibilities of school staff relating to risk assessment, subject to the provisos set out in the next section, can be summarised briefly as set out below:
- Head teachers’ professional duties include responsibility for managing health and safety in schools and the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) requires head teachers to promote the safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff (paragraph 46.6). They Risk Assessments have a duty to co-operate with their governing body and employer so far as is necessary to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements. As a result of this, they may be required by their employer or governing body to manage the process of risk assessment in their schools but this does not necessarily mean they must carry them out themselves.
- Deputy and assistant head teachers may be required to undertake any of the head teacher's professional duties reasonably delegated to them by the head teacher and may also therefore be required to manage the process of risk assessment. Heads of department or subject may, as a result of their managerial role, be required to do so for their area of responsibility. Again, this does not necessarily mean they must carry the risk assessments out themselves.
- Classroom teachers who are not heads of department/subject have no obligation under their conditions of service and professional duties to become involved either in managing or undertaking risk assessments. Any teacher may, however, agree if they wish to contribute to the risk assessment process. Classroom teachers do have a duty in the STPCD to promote the safety and wellbeing of pupils.
- Non-teaching staff may be required to undertake risk assessments if this is provided for under their contracts of employment.
Who is a competent person?
Employers are obliged by legislation on risk assessment to ensure that those carrying out risk assessments are "competent" to do so. This is a very important matter in determining the extent to which teachers, in particular heads and deputies, should be involved in carrying out risk assessments on behalf of the employer.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 clarify that employers should, wherever possible, use competent employees in preference to external sources of advice and assistance on health and safety. However, there are some exceptions where the services of an appropriately qualified and competent external adviser will be required, for instance in relation to asbestos and fire safety.
For an individual to be deemed to be ‘competent’ under the Regulations, they must have ‘sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities’ to be able to undertake the task. This does not mean that a risk assessment can be carried out only by qualified health and safety specialists. It does, however, mean that anyone who is asked to carry out a risk assessment, or who agrees to do so, is entitled to be given proper support.
Proper support includes training in risk assessment and other guidance of the kind set out later in this document. Otherwise, the risk assessment will not have been carried out by a "competent person" and will not be recognised as a valid risk assessment. The employer will have failed to discharge the legal responsibility for risk assessment.
The following sections consider in more depth the role firstly of managers, including head teachers, deputy and assistant head teachers and heads of department/subject and secondly of classroom teachers.
The role of the manager
As noted above, employers are legally obliged to ensure that risk assessments are carried out by "competent persons". Head teachers and other managers who are requested to undertake risk assessments should therefore ensure that they obtain all the necessary support outlined later in this document in order that they are “competent persons”. If they do not, the risk assessments will not be valid.
Managers may consider that it is desirable to involve other members of staff, particularly where they have specific areas of expertise. For example, the premises manager might be consulted. Risk Assessments Depending on who is undertaking the risk assessment, heads of department, or subjects might be involved in a consultative role only.
Managers cannot, however, require classroom teachers or non-teaching staff to undertake duties which do not form part of their contractual or professional obligations. Managers should also bear in mind that all members of staff who are required to, or who agree to take part in the risk assessment process, should also be given support and training in the principles of risk assessment, otherwise they may not necessarily be fully competent in identifying risks to which attention should be given.
The role of the classroom teacher
Classroom teachers who are not heads of department or subject cannot be required to undertake risk assessments as this is not one of the professional duties set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document.
The list of professional duties set out in the Pay and Conditions Document includes the "safeguarding of the health and safety of pupils" but this does not create any responsibility for preparing formal risk assessments.
Many teachers carry out informal risk assessments every day by, for example, visually inspecting equipment before use and reporting any defects to the appropriate person. This is part of the normal work process. It reflects the duty placed on all employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of other persons who may be affected by their actions or omissions. This duty however, is completely separate from the responsibility placed on employers to prepare formal risk assessments within the workplace.
Classroom teachers may nevertheless be prepared to contribute to risk assessments for the particular areas in which they work, provided that they have received appropriate support and training in the principles of risk assessment.
Their day to day knowledge of the location and of the processes involved will be valuable. Their involvement will foster a sense of ownership of the process and, most importantly, will allow them an effective input on school health and safety matters. Science staff need to be involved in risk assessments for areas within their jurisdiction.
However, employers must be sure that subject specialists are fully competent both in the risk assessment process and in the specialist subject. Even where a teacher has the specialist knowledge and is competent to undertake risk assessments on behalf of the employer, the resulting risk assessments still ‘belong’ to the employer who will be held liable if they are inadequate.
Teachers are advised not to become involved in risk assessments in areas where they do not routinely work, for example, the school kitchen, the boiler room or in community facilities.