The safety rep’s rights of inspection
A major part of the NEU Safety Representative's job is carrying out safety inspections. Safety representatives have the right to carry out the following types of safety inspections in schools:
- regular routine inspections (quarterly, at least) of the workplace;
- inspections as a result of notifiable accidents, dangerous occurrences or the contraction of notifiable diseases;
- inspections as a result of a change in the conditions of work;
- inspections as a result of the receipt of new HSE hazard information; and
- inspections of documents which are relevant to the workplace or employees which they represent.
They also have the right to investigate potential hazards, dangerous occurrences or causes of accidents, either following the receipt of an employee complaint or on their own initiative, and to investigate complaints relating to employees’ health, safety or welfare at work.
These and other rights are set out in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the accompanying HSE ACoP and Guidance Notes known as the Brown Book.
Routine inspections: Agreeing a programme of inspections
Safety reps are entitled to carry out quarterly inspections of the workplace on a routine basis. The NEU’s view is that in schools it is most appropriate for safety reps to aim to carry out routine inspections each term.
As safety rep, you must give written notice to your employer of your intention to carry out your inspection. Given this fact, it is sensible to plan a programme of inspections in advance and agree arrangements for these with the head. According to the Brown Book, issues of discussion should include the following:
- the precise timing and notice to be given for formal inspections by safety reps;
- the kind of inspection to be carried out, such as safety tours (general inspections by touring all areas of the workplace), safety sampling (systematic study of particular activities) or safety surveys;
- the possibility of breaking up the inspection into inspections of smaller areas (eg the science or CDT department followed by other areas) or of particular issues (eg fire precautions,
- structural condition), and for different safety reps to inspect different parts of the site;
- the presence of a management representative (eg headteacher, premises manager, local authority officer) or union adviser (eg NEU H&S Adviser, Regional Officer) to accompany the safety rep; and
- arrangements for consulting and discussing matters with employees during the inspection
The following guidance concentrates upon the most common safety inspections, which are inspections of the physical state of the premises. Safety reps may, however, wish on occasion to undertake inspections relating specifically to health and safety policies and procedures and health and safety management in the workplace. The following advice applies equally to such “systems inspections” and further specific guidance is set out in appendix one.
Safety reps are entitled to “such time off with pay as shall be necessary” to carry out their inspections and to write up their inspection report. Both of these should be agreed in advance. The NEU health and safety briefing on the role of the safety rep sets out the safety rep’s rights in full, but in brief the NEU advises that a half day should be allowed for inspections in smaller schools e.g. primaries and a full day in larger schools e.g. secondaries.
NEU safety reps should always seek to coordinate their inspections with other union safety reps so far as is possible. Sharing the responsibility of inspecting, by agreement, will save duplication of effort and arguments over access to time off to carry out inspections. Where, however, another union’s safety rep has carried out an inspection without any reference to the NEU safety rep then the employer cannot use this as a reason for refusing time off to the NEU safety rep for their inspection.
It may be suggested that the head, a governor or an employer representative accompanies the safety rep during the inspection. The NEU has no objections to this but would prefer the school employer to be represented by a safety officer who has expertise in health and safety issues.
During formal inspections, employers are required to furnish “facilities and assistance” to safety representatives which they may reasonably require for the purpose of carrying out inspections. The precise meaning of this is not, however, specified in the Brown Book. The advice set out in the following sections may assist in preparing for your inspection and obtaining relevant information.
Routine inspections: Preparing for your inspection
Preparation for inspections is essential. As well as agreeing arrangements with your headteacher as above, you should take the following steps in preparing for yours.
Plan an itinerary and inform your colleagues
Decide what type of inspection you are going to undertake. Most inspections take the form of a “safety tour” which is a walk-through tour of the premises and seeks to cover all possible issues. You may, however, opt on occasion to carry out a themed inspection concentrating upon specific issues. These might include arrangements for managing health and safety or specific issues of concern such as lifting and handling or stress.
Plan and publish an itinerary for the inspection. Safety reps may go into any areas where the employees whom they represent work or where conditions may affect the employees whom they represent.
Notify your colleagues in order that they are expecting you to come into their classrooms, offices etc. The inspection should always take place during the school day and include a period when pupils are moving about the school.
Safety reps are allowed to have private discussions with their members during routine joint inspections, although they cannot prevent employers or their representatives being present in the workplace during routine inspections. Remember to talk to your colleagues about issues of concern to them and also ask them about information or training they have received on use of materials and equipment and other relevant issues such as fire safety, electrical equipment or classroom acoustics. It is also useful to consult during the inspection with specialist members of staff within the school who are familiar with hazards associated with specific machinery or substances.
Obtain the NEU inspection checklist and report form
Using a general checklist can be useful if you are undertaking a walk-through tour of the premises. Checklists are also available for safety reps who are inspecting specific processes or issues of concern rather than inspecting the premises generally.
There is an NEU school safety reps' inspection checklist which can be used as a guide during safety inspection to help reps to identify issues and spot hazards. It may need to be amended according to the size, layout and other circumstances of the school. Reps can add further points to the checklist for particular hazards which are likely to arise in the school. There are also specific NEU checklists on issues such as construction work or use of computers which can be found in other NEU health and safety briefings.
The NEU has also prepared a model NEU school safety reps' inspection report form, which is based on the HSE’s own model safety inspection report form, and a copy of this is at the bottom of this page.
Safety representatives may find it useful to collect the following items before an inspection in order to have them to hand during the inspection or for reference afterwards.
- A copy of the employer’s health and safety policy;
- A plan of the layout of the premises;
- Previous inspection reports;
- Details of previous accidents and dangerous occurrences;
- An inventory of machinery and equipment;
- An inventory of hazardous substances kept on the premises;
- Details of siting and nature of fire appliances;
- Details of siting and nature of first aid provision;
- Relevant guidance documents such as HSE Codes of Practice or Guidance, DfE guidance documents, guidance issued by the employer with regard to health and safety matters, and operators’ manuals for machinery, plant and equipment in use.
Safety reps should study relevant data, such as accident statistics or information issued by manufacturers of equipment and substances, before planning and carrying out inspections. Such information may give indications of particular problem areas within individual schools.
Routine inspections: Delivering the inspection report
Following their routine inspections, safety representatives should complete an inspection report, recording the date, time and details of the inspection. NEU safety reps should submit their own reports even where the inspection has been carried out jointly with another union’s safety rep. The NEU has its own model form as outlined above, while some employers have also issued their own standard forms.
The rule of thumb should be that if you see something which concerns you then you should report it.
Minor matters which can be quickly and easily resolved might, of course, be better pointed out or discussed informally without inclusion in the formal report.
Reports of inspections should be submitted to:
- the headteacher and the chair of governors;
- the person responsible for managing health and safety in the school if this is not the head;
- the employer’s health & safety officer; and
- the NEU health and safety adviser.
A further copy should be retained by the safety representative for the record.
Don’t forget to let your colleagues know as well, perhaps by displaying your report on the noticeboard.
Routine inspections: Action to be taken
Once the safety rep has delivered the inspection report, a meeting should then be held within the school to discuss it. The safety rep should ask the headteacher (or other person responsible for managing health and safety matters) to complete the remedial action or explanation part of the form and return it to the safety rep.
In some cases, it may be possible for the hazard to be quickly rectified by staff within the school or by employer staff or contractors. However, in some cases some unsafe conditions may not be so easily rectified without expert advice being sought or a great deal of money being spent. In these circumstances, further discussion will be needed to ensure resolution of the problem.
Where the headteacher believes that a satisfactory solution has been found to a problem highlighted during an inspection, safety representatives should be notified of this. Afterward, they should be permitted to re-inspect the area in order that they can satisfy themselves that appropriate action has in fact been taken.
Where remedial action resulting from the reports is not taken within a reasonable amount of time, or where the safety representative is of the opinion that the action taken was inappropriate, the safety rep should ask to be informed in writing by the headteacher or employer of the reasons for the type of action taken or the delay which has occurred.
It is important to keep raising issues and not to be deflected simply because no reply has been received regarding a problem. If no satisfactory answer is received or satisfactory solution reached, safety representatives should seek advice from the NEU Adviceline.
Other inspections: Kinds of inspection
Notifiable accidents, dangerous occurrences and notifiable diseases
These are matters which, by law, must be reported by the employer to the HSE. Safety reps are entitled to be informed of the notification to the HSE. They are also entitled to inspect the scene of the occurrence or accident to look into its cause or consider whether the source of the disease is traceable to the workplace. Not all accidents and occurrences are notifiable but, in such cases safety reps still have the right to investigate either following a complaint or on their own initiative (see below).
When safety reps are exercising their rights of inspection in examining the site of notifiable accidents/dangerous occurrences or circumstances surrounding notifiable diseases, the NEU recommends that they are accompanied by the headteacher in carrying out a joint inspection.
In such circumstances, any machinery, plant equipment or substance in the workplace relevant to the accident or occurrence which has taken place may be examined by the safety rep. The main purpose of such an examination should be to establish the cause in order to prevent a recurrence.
Safety reps should be kept informed, preferably in writing, of any action taken by the employer following an accident or occurrence. During inspections following notifiable accidents or dangerous occurrences, employers are not required to be present when safety reps talk with their members - there may well be occasions when safety reps and their members do not wish employers to be present.
Change in working conditions or receipt of new HSE hazard information
These can be interpreted widely and may, for example, allow inspections to check safety standards when construction work has been completed (or when it is underway) or when new methods of work have been introduced, or to check compliance with new legal requirements.
Inspection of documents
Safety reps have the right to inspect health and safety documents which are relevant to the workplace or the employees they represent. Employers are also obliged to make such information available to safety reps as necessary to enable them to discharge their functions. This includes information about planned changes in working practices with health and safety implications; technical information about hazards and safety precautions; information about accidents etc; and any other information related to matters affecting health and safety. There are only limited exceptions excluding information about individuals and information affecting the employer’s undertaking (or national security!). NEU advice on undertaking inspections focusing on health and safety policies and procedures and health and safety management is set out in appendix 1. > Investigations
Where safety representatives are alerted by their colleagues to imminent risks or hazards which may affect their members, then they can begin investigations right away without formal notice of an inspection. Similarly, they may inspect on their own initiative where they have become aware of a potential problem without having been informed of this by a member. Following such investigations, safety reps can raise matters with the employer in the same way as if a formal inspection had been undertaken.
Other inspections: Delivering reports
Following any of the above inspections of accidents, dangerous occurrences, unsafe conditions or hazards to health, safety reps should complete reports to be submitted. The law specifically gives safety reps the right to make representations to the employer (and to the HSE) in such circumstances. The safety rep should expect the same response as to a report of a routine inspection (as outlined earlier).
HSE and EHO Inspections: Receiving information
The law also entitles safety reps to receive information from HSE inspectors and environmental health officers during their visits to employers' premises. Since 2011 the HSE no longer routinely inspects schools, as they have been classfied as ‘low risk’ settings (the NEU disagrees with this classification). The circumstances under which the HSE would inspect a school include if a major incident occurred, or if there were concerns that laws were being broken, and this was not being addressed by management.
When inspections are undertaken, HSE inspectors are encouraged to speak to safety reps and to ask employers to provide access to safety reps during their visits. Safety reps should therefore be informed in advance by the employer of any planned visit to the school by HSE inspector or environmental health officer so that they can plan to be in the school or the visit. They should also be given the opportunity to speak privately with the inspectors.
Section 28(8) of the 1974 Act imposes a duty on HSE inspectors to disclose information to workers or their representatives concerning their health, safety and welfare at work. This includes factual information (eg any results of sampling or monitoring results) and information on any action which the inspector takes or proposes to take (eg prosecutions, issue of Improvement or Prohibition Notices or warning letters to employers).
Relationship between safety inspection reports and risk assessments
Workplace safety inspection reports should not be confused with risk assessments. Safety reps’ inspections only need to identify hazards and problems. Risk assessments are management's responsibility and must seek not only to identify hazards but also to evaluate risks and then recommend steps to remove or reduce those risks. The safety rep’s role in the risk assessment process is to review the risk assessments in order to ensure that the management’s procedures and safety precautions are working effectively.
Action points for safety reps
Make sure that:
- you are familiar with your rights to carry out routine safety inspections and other sorts of inspections; and
- you carry out your routine inspections and any other inspections necessary in line with the guidance given in this briefing note.
Appendix 1 - Inspecting H&S policies and procedures and H&S management
Safety representatives are generally well aware of their rights to undertake regular inspections of the workplace. The NEU model inspection checklist at https://neu.org.uk/ describes various matters to look out for around the school when undertaking a workplace inspection.
As well as these physical inspections, safety representatives may wish to expand their inspections to include examinations of the way in which health and safety is managed in their particular school and the policies and procedures that are in place. Safety reps are entitled to carry out such “systems inspections”, since they are safety inspections within the terms of the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and are also covered by the duty on employers under those regulations to make health and safety information available to safety representatives to enable them to fulfil their functions.
Systems inspections would not need to be carried out every term - once a year may be sufficient. Set out below is a non-exhaustive list of the safety policies and procedures which the NEU believes should be in place in schools.
- Computer use
- Construction Work/Contractors on site
- COSHH Assessments
- Electrical Safety
- Emergency Procedures
- First Aid
- Head Lice
- Home Visits
- Hygiene Control
- Infectious Diseases
- Medicines in School
- Minibus Safety (where appropriate)
- New and Expectant Mothers
- Online safety – including sexting, social media etc.
- Playground Safety
- Risk Assessment
- School Visits
- Swimming (where appropriate)
- Staff stress and mental health
- Sun Safety
- Voice care/classroom acoustics
Conducting a systems inspection
Safety representatives may wish to divide their inspection of health and safety policies, procedures and management into three parts.
Meeting school management
The first part could involve setting up a meeting with the head teacher or other member of staff responsible for health and safety management to discuss
- the policies in place in the school; and
- the mechanisms (if any) for ensuring that staff are aware of their contents, for monitoring compliance with them and for revising them when necessary.
The second part could involve finding out from colleagues, either through a written survey or at a meeting, whether:
- they are in fact aware of the policies which the school has adopted;
- the procedures are put into practice; and
- they have any concerns about health and safety management in the school.
Depending on the feed back from colleagues, the safety representative may need to initiate further discussions with the head teacher or senior member of staff responsible for health and safety management.
Auditing policies and procedures in practice
The third element of such an inspection could involve auditing the way in which procedures work in practice. Examples of the kind of spot checks on health and safety management systems which could be undertaken are set out below. Safety representatives will be aware of many others of relevance to their particular school. Some of these could be undertaken in partnership with management by arrangement (eg auditing the success of fire drills).
Fire Drills – did they go as planned, did staff and pupils know what to do, did everyone hear the alarm, were any exits blocked or locked, was the evacuation quick enough?
Contractors on Site – are they working in accordance with local authority guidelines?
Accidents – are staff reporting accidents to school management, is management taking action to prevent similar accidents in the future, are accident details forwarded to the local authority?
Security – do measures in place to prevent unauthorized people entering the school premises work in practice?
Medicines in School – are all staff aware that the administration of medicines is not part of the professional duties of teachers and is therefore a purely voluntary role, have all staff who have volunteered to administer medicines to pupils received appropriate information and training?
Minibuses – do all staff who drive the school minibus meet the requirements of the policy in terms of licence, training, insurance and medical fitness? Are they aware of rules on safe drivers’ hours, driving abroad and wearing of seatbelts?
Stress – is the policy leading to reductions in stress among staff?
Reporting your findings and taking up issues
The results of the “systems inspection” process should be reported to the school’s management in the same way as the result of a physical inspection. The safety rep’s report, including a report of the meeting with management and a report on meetings with staff and any audit undertaken, should be included in a written report to the employer for response in the usual way.
Similarly, any problems revealed during the process should be taken up in the same way as any problem discovered during a physical inspection. Where issues regarding the school’s health and safety procedures emerge during the meeting with school management, the safety rep should take this up at that meeting or, if this is not practicable, report this subsequently to the employer. Where matters are not addressed satisfactorily, the matter should be taken further in the same way as any other health and safety problem.