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 aren't 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 school

Employer

Community and community special schools

Local authority

Voluntary controlled schools (VC)

Local authority

Maintained nursery schools

Local authority

Pupil referral units (PRUs)

Local authority

Foundation/foundation special schools

Governing body

Voluntary aided schools (VA)

Governing body

Trust schools

Governing body

Individual academies

Governing body

Academies that are part of a chain

Academy trust

Free schools

Governing body

Independent schools

Governing body or proprietor

6th form and FE colleges

College 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.

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 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

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.

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.

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.

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 managing health and safety issues can only be carried out by qualified health and safety specialists. 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.

For more information, please download the full ‘Managing health and safety’ guidance.