3. Welfare – Health & Safety

The Government is determined to reduce burdens on schools. We want to simplify health and safety requirements and explain them better. The Government is making it easier for schools to take pupils on trips, removing paperwork and taking steps to reduce teachers’ fears of legal action. Teachers should be confident that they know best how to look after pupils and keep them safe.

This document summarises the existing health and safety law relevant to schools and explains how it affects local authorities, governing bodies, headteachers and other school staff. It covers activities that take place on or off school premises, including school trips.

Advice on driving school minibuses is now provided separately.

This advice document replaces a number of guidance documents on health, safety and security in schools, including Health and Safety: Responsibilities and Powers (2001) and Health and Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits (HASPEV 1998).

Independent schools – Please note that the amended Independent School Standards Regulations 2010, which came into effect from 1 January 2013, no longer require proprietors to have regard to specific guidance. However, schools may find it useful to refer to this health and safety advice. Further information on the amended regulations can be found here.

In conjunction with this advice document you should read the following policy statement from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ‘School trips and outdoor learning activities: Tackling the health and safety myths’.

Who is this advice for?
• School employers
• Headteachers and other school staff
Although this advice is aimed at schools, Sixth Form Colleges are covered by the same health and safety legislation and may also find the advice useful to inform their approach to health and safety.

Key points:
General

Children should be able to experience a wide range of activities. Health and safety measures should help them to do this safely, not stop them.
It is important that children learn to understand and manage the risks that are a normal part of life.

Common sense should be used in assessing and managing the risks of any activity. Health and safety procedures should always be proportionate to the risks of an activity. Staff should be given the training they need so they can keep themselves and children
safe and manage risks effectively.

The Law
The main legislation covering this area is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and regulations made under that Act.

The employer (the local authority, governing body or proprietor) is responsible for health and safety, though tasks may be delegated to staff.

Employees also have a duty to look after their own and others’ health and safety. It is very rare for school staff to be prosecuted under criminal law with regard to accidents involving children. Employers, school staff and others also have a duty under the common law to take care
of pupils in the same way that a prudent parent would do so. Most claims for negligence are brought against the employer (who has public liability
insurance) and not individual members of staff. 

What does assessing and managing risks mean?
Health and safety law requires the employer to assess the risks to the health and safety of staff and others affected by their activities. The terms risk assessment and risk management are used to describe the process of thinking about the risks of any activity and the steps taken to counter them. Sensible management of risk does not mean that a separate written risk assessment is required for every activity. School employers should always take a common sense and proportionate approach, remembering that in schools risk assessment and risk management are tools to enable children to undertake activities safely, and not prevent activities from taking place.

Sensible risk management cannot remove risk altogether but it should avoid needless or unhelpful paperwork. Some activities, especially those happening away from school, can involve higher levels of risk. If these are annual or infrequent activities, a review of an existing assessment may be all that is needed. If it is a new activity, a specific assessment of significant risks must be carried out. Headteachers should ensure that the person assigned with the assessment task understands the risks and is familiar with the activity that is planned.

Where a risk assessment is carried out the employer must record the significant findings of the assessment. However, schools need not carry out a risk assessment every time they undertake an activity that usually forms part of the school day, for example, taking pupils to a local venue which it frequently visits, such as a swimming pool, park, or place of worship. Any risks of these routine activities should already have been considered when agreeing the school’s general health and safety policies and procedures. A regular check to make sure the precautions remain suitable is all that is required.