This briefing considers the management of health and safety in schools and colleges and the respective roles of the employer, governing body, head teacher and other staff of the school.

Health and safety management

The primary legal responsibilities for health and safety rest with the employer. In order to carry out their legal responsibilities, employers need to delegate responsibility for managing health and safety matters. To make sure delegation works, effective systems for managing health and safety have to be in place.

In schools, effective health and safety management systems will make sure that the employer's legal duties are discharged; that teachers and staff know that their employer is taking their health and safety seriously; that parents have confidence that their children are safe; and that resources are not wasted on emergencies which could be avoided.

The main relevant legal requirements are to be found in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (the HASAWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the management regulations). The regulations on delegation of funding also have an impact on the area.

Who is the employer?

Legal responsibilities in schools are complicated by the fact that local authorities are not the employers of teachers in all types of educational setting. The following table provides an at-a-glance guide to who is the employer in different types of school.

Type of schoolEmployer
Community and community special schoolsLocal authority
Voluntary controlled schools (VC)Local authority
Maintained nursery schoolsLocal authority
Pupil referral units (PRUs)Local authority
Foundation/foundation special schoolsGoverning body
Voluntary aided schools (VA)Governing body
Trust schoolsGoverning body
Individual academiesGoverning body
Academies that are part of a chainAcademy trust
Free schoolsGoverning body
Independent schoolsGoverning body or proprietor
Sixth form and FE collegesCollege corporation

Community and voluntary controlled schools etc

In community schools, community special schools, voluntary controlled schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units, the employer is the local authority. It has the power to ensure that its health and safety policy is carried out in school and on all school activities. Although the governing body in such schools is not the employer, it does carry some responsibilities as a result of its delegated powers of management (see later).

Foundation, voluntary aided and independent schools

Although in these schools the local authority is not the employer, in some circumstances (particularly in local authority-maintained schools such as foundation and voluntary aided schools) there may be staff employed by the local authority working on the premises. In such cases the local authority, as employer, has responsibility for their health and safety. The governing body also has responsibilities towards them, as visitors. In such schools, the governing body as employer has primary responsibility for health and safety for all staff that they employ.

Academies

In stand-alone academies, the governing body is the employer. In academies which are part of a chain, the employer is the academy trust. Again, whoever the employer is has primary responsibility for the health and safety of their employees.

The starting point: the employer’s health and safety policy statement

The fundamental document underpinning employers’ health and safety management systems is the employer’s health and safety policy statement. The HASAWA requires all employers to have a health and safety policy statement.

The policy should start off with a statement of the employer's commitment to meeting its health and safety responsibilities, and 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.

Employers with more than one school, such as local authorities or multi academy trusts, are likely to have their own overall health and safety policy statement and accompanying procedures, which should be circulated to all of its schools. These should be supplemented by the school's own procedures covering additional matters specific to the school such as its particular arrangements for fire and first aid precautions etc. An NEU checklist of the various health and safety policies which should be in place in schools is set out at Appendix 2.

In such schools, the employer will expect schools to comply with, and follow, the provisions of its policy statement and procedures, and to put their own supplementary procedures in place in line with advice given in the policy statement.

In schools such as voluntary aided schools, individual academies and sixth form colleges, the governing body or college corporation, as employer, is responsible for ensuring that a health and safety policy statement is in place. They may adopt the policy statement and procedures of the local authority, together with any advice from, in the case of church schools, their diocesan authority, to which they will add any necessary supplementary procedures.

Local authority advice and guidance

Many local authorities (LAs) provide health and safety advice to foundation, foundation special, voluntary aided or independent schools, even though LAs are not the employer in such schools. Governing bodies and other employers of such schools often rely upon such expertise as they are unlikely to have the resources at school level to compare with those existing within LAs.

While control of maintained school budgets may have been delegated to governing bodies, the LA retains the ultimate legal responsibility for health and safety matters where it is the employer. Delegation does not, therefore, mean that the LA does not have any further involvement in health and safety matters in schools. The LA should continue to play a full role in monitoring safety standards and issuing advice and guidance to schools.

Day-to-day control of budgets and management of many areas of school activity is under the control of the school governing body. It is, therefore, important that safety reps understand the extent of the governing body’s responsibilities for managing health and safety matters.

Governing bodies of schools where the LA is the employer have some responsibility for health and safety matters as ‘persons in control of premises’ by virtue of Section 4 of the 1974 Act. Governing bodies should be fully aware of this fact and of what they must do to ensure they also observe the law. They should, in particular, ensure compliance with health and safety standards and procedures in the areas for which they control funding; act as promptly as is reasonable with regard to risks and hazards encountered; and ensure proper attention to health and safety matters when setting their budgetary priorities.

In situations where a governing body is failing to act properly, LAs can order any necessary work to be done and charge the costs to the school's delegated budget. They also have a range of other powers with regard to seeking and obtaining information for monitoring and intervention purposes – see below for further details.

The areas for which funding is delegated will include structural repairs and maintenance (this can include even large scale repairs and maintenance), non-structural repairs and cleaning, grounds maintenance, specialist advice services, health and safety training, and recording and monitoring health and safety matters. Governing bodies can, in many cases, use the delegated funding simply to ‘buy back’ these services for the school from the LA.

Generally speaking, LAs retain responsibility for capital spending on school buildings and delegate the funding for repairs and maintenance. Most LAs will follow this arrangement. Safety reps should have access to the LA scheme in order to be able to confirm precisely what their LA’s scheme of delegation provides.

Further information on funding for health and safety in schools where the LA is the employer can be found in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) section of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) education web pages.

Relationship with local authority in schools where the LA is not the employer

In foundation and voluntary aided schools, where the LA is not the employer, the governing body is responsible for health and safety. There is no legal requirement for such schools to adopt the LA’s health and safety policies and procedures. A number of LAs make their services and recommendations available to such schools, for which they make a charge.

An LA additionally has the power to intervene in a maintained school where the governing body is the employer, where safety (not health) of pupils or staff is threatened by, for example, a breakdown in discipline.

Responsibilities of individuals

The respective division of responsibilities for managing health and safety between employers and governing bodies is clearly important. More important on a day-to-day basis are the specific management arrangements within the school.

Managing health and safety in schools on a day-to-day basis involves delegation of management responsibilities to specific employees within the school. The chief of these is, of course, the head teacher. Other staff members will have responsibilities as well. Having a management responsibility for health and safety matters does not, however, mean that the legal duties and ultimate legal responsibilities have also been transferred to the individual. Ultimate legal responsibility remains with the employer.

Appendix 1 sets out a useful overview of the roles of the employer, governors and individual members of staff in a school where the local authority is the employer, while the following sections discuss this area in more detail.

Head teachers and other leadership group members

Head teachers are responsible for day-to-day management of health and safety in schools. Their professional duties, laid down within their statutory conditions of service (where applicable), refer specifically to health and safety management within the school. Their conditions of service also require head teachers to comply with employer policies and procedures, including those for health and safety. Their powers in the area of health and safety will include, for example, the power to close schools or to order contractors to cease work as well as to oversee health and safety systems on a daily basis.

Deputy heads and assistant heads may be required to undertake any of the head teacher’s duties and obligations which have reasonably been delegated to them. This may include responsibility for oversight of health and safety management across the school.

All leadership group members should be aware that the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to ensure that those who assist employers to carry out health and safety functions are ‘competent’ to do so. The regulations define ‘competence’ in terms of sufficient training, experience or knowledge. This does not mean that only qualified health and safety specialists can manage health and safety issues. It does mean that head teachers and other managers are entitled to expect support in the form of training and appropriate guidance. Otherwise, the employer will have failed to discharge its legal responsibilities.

Other teaching and school staff

Heads of department/faculty, curriculum co-ordinators etc have the same professional duties and statutory conditions of service as other classroom teachers. While these do not include any specific reference to management of health and safety issues, their management responsibilities can be expected to include responsibility for managing health and safety matters in those areas. For example, heads of science or science co-ordinators will have an obligation to oversee health and safety matters relating to that curriculum area, particularly as regards the oversight of compliance with safety procedures, maintenance of stocks of safety materials etc.

Occasionally, however, head teachers invite teachers who are not members of the leadership group to take on a role of health and safety officer or co-ordinator or some similar title in order to assist the head teacher in managing health and safety matters generally across the school. These teachers are not specifically obliged under their conditions of service to become involved in such work. While teachers with management responsibilities may, as noted above, have health and safety responsibilities in those areas, this does not mean that they can also be obliged to take on health and safety responsibilities which extend across the school or outside their normal areas of management responsibility.

For teachers or support staff who are not members of the leadership group, therefore, taking on responsibilities for health and safety matters should be a voluntary matter. They are entitled to consider whether their involvement in such a role is appropriate and, if they agree to accept it, they are entitled to receive training from their employer to equip them to deal with these responsibilities. They are also entitled to a job description and salary which adequately reflects their new responsibilities.

Such responsibilities might include overseeing risk assessments, planning and organising health and safety standards and protective measures, monitoring and reviewing such measures, and ensuring staff are appropriately trained and informed. To do this effectively, they are entitled to advice from their local authority and to be kept informed about proposals for changes in health and safety policies and arrangements.

Relationship between managers and safety representatives

NEU safety reps should seek to establish a good working relationship with those responsible for health and safety management in the school. The role of the safety rep should not, however, become confused with the role of management. For that reason, the NEU advises that safety reps should not also have any management role relating to health and safety across the school since this could lead to a conflict of interests.

Governing body sub-committees and school health and safety committees

Governing bodies should take their role in monitoring health and safety issues seriously. Most governing bodies will have a premises sub-committee or similar to assist in managing, monitoring and improving standards of health and safety. It is always a good idea for health and safety matters to be considered at governing body meetings, either via the report of such a sub-committee or as part of the head's report.

In some schools, there are also joint management/union health and safety committees made up of managers and safety reps. The NEU believes that such committees play a useful role, particularly in larger schools, and schools where the governing body is the employer. These health and safety committees may play a different role from governing body sub-committees, and may not even include any governors, but it is sensible for there to be clear lines of communication between the separate committees. See NEU health and safety briefing School Safety Committees.

Employers must by law establish joint management/union health and safety committees where they are formally requested to do so by two trade union safety reps. Most, if not all, local authorities will have a committee of this kind at LA level to ensure consultation and communication between the LA and teacher unions. Likewise, many multi-academy trusts have employer-level safety committees established. See NEU health and safety briefing Employer Safety Committees.

Action points for safety reps

Make sure that:

  1. you have access to the employer’s health and safety policy statement
  2. the arrangements for managing health and safety in the school reflects NEU guidance
  3. the arrangements include provision for consulting employees, including you as safety rep, on health and safety matters.

Further guidance

The DfE has published a brief 11-page summary of the law as it relates to health and safety in schools .

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website contains some useful information on health and safety responsibilities in its frequently asked questions (FAQs) section.

NEU health and safety briefings are available here.

Appendix 1

HSE guidance: summary of health and safety functions in schools

This HSE checklist of health and safety functions in schools is taken from Managing Health and Safety in Schools and may be useful to safety reps in setting out the scope of the various responsibilities and functions for health and safety in schools. Managing Health and Safety in Schools is no longer available, and this extract may not reflect current HSE advice. The NEU believes, however, that it remains a useful summary of the roles and responsibilities for health and safety in schools where the local authority is the employer. Schools outside LA control will need to amend this summary to reflect their individual circumstances.

Head teacher

The main functions of the head teacher are:

  • day-to-day management of all health and safety matters in the school in accordance with the health and safety policy
  • ensuring regular inspections are carried out
  • submitting inspection reports to governors and/or the local education authority (local authority)
  • ensuring action is taken
  • passing on information received on health and safety matters to appropriate people
  • carrying out investigations
  • chairing the school health and safety committee
  • identifying staff training needs
  • liaising with governors and/or the local authority on policy issues and any problems in implementing the health and safety policy
  • co-operating with and providing necessary facilities for safety representatives.

In non-local authority schools, and some local authority schools with delegated financial management systems, head teachers may also be expected to monitor purchasing/contracting procedures to ensure that their employer's health and safety policy is complied with. Other duties may also be delegated by the employer. Employers should remember that although functions can and should be delegated, legal responsibility cannot.

Heads of departments

Their main functions are:

  • day-to-day management of health and safety in accordance with health and safety policies
  • drawing up and reviewing departmental procedures regularly
  • carrying out regular inspections and making reports to the head teacher
  • ensuring action is taken
  • arranging for staff training and information
  • passing on health and safety information received to appropriate people
  • acting on reports from above or below in the hierarchy.

Other staff

Their main functions are:

  • day-to-day management of health and safety in accordance with the health and safety policy
  • checking classrooms/work areas are safe
  • checking equipment is safe before use
  • ensuring safe procedures are followed
  • ensuring protective equipment is used, when needed
  • participating in inspections and the health and safety committee, if appropriate
  • bringing problems to the relevant manager's attention.

Governors

Their main functions are:

  • monitoring (including consideration of inspection reports)
  • prioritising actions where resources are required
  • ensuring actions are taken
  • including health and safety on governors' meeting agenda
  • annual report on health and safety
  • ratifying the local safety policy.

Employer

Their main functions are:

  • monitoring (including consideration of inspection reports)
  • confirming or advising on priorities identified
  • arranging and considering audits
  • reviewing health and safety policy regularly
  • providing information
  • analysing accident and ill health/near-miss reports
  • providing training.

Appendix 2

NEU checklist of health and safety procedures which schools should have in place

Note, this list is not exhaustive.

  • Accidents/injuries
  • Asbestos
  • Bullying/harassment/cyberbullying
  • Computer use
  • Construction work/contractors on school site
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessments
  • Cyberbullying
  • Data projector safety
  • E-safety
  • Electrical safety
  • Emergency procedures
  • Fire safety
  • First aid
  • Head lice
  • Home visits
  • Hygiene control
  • Infectious diseases
  • Lifting/handling
  • Manual handling
  • Medicines in school
  • Minibus safety (where appropriate)
  • New and expectant mothers
  • Playground safety
  • Risk assessment
  • School visits
  • Security/violence
  • Slips and trips
  • Swimming safety (where appropriate)
  • Stress and mental health, occupational health services
  • Sun safety
  • Temperatures/heating
  • Vehicle movements on site

Appendix 3

Former DfES/Welsh Office guidance: division of responsibilities between local authorities and governing bodies for repairs and maintenance.

The then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and Welsh Office issued these tables as guidance to local authorities on the appropriate division of responsibilities between LAs and governing bodies for repairs and maintenance.

They indicate how items of spending should be divided into capital spending (funded by the LA) and revenue spending (funded by the governing body from its delegated budget). The division is based on the DfES’ interpretation of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) code of practice on LA accounting. It also indicates the items that are the separate responsibility of governors in VA schools, which are financially supported by the churches or charitable foundations.

NB the actual division of responsibilities in each LA is for the LA to determine for itself.

Please download the document below to view the tables.

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