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Creating Safer Learning Environments for Children

There were 35,041 reported accidents involving children between 2005 and 2010, according to HSE. In truth, the real number is likely to be much higher since non-fatal accidents are significantly under-reported.

With school buildings becoming increasingly older, the level of risk can only escalate. That’s if educators don’t take action to tackle inadequate health and safety.

But the message isn’t to be risk-averse. Primary schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs) should be safe havens for learning and play.

We team up with One Education, a provider of business management services and pupil support for schools and academies, to explain the risks schools must manage and how to interpret health and safety laws pragmatically.

What are the main risks for primary schools and academies?

From asbestos to slipping and falling hazards, there are key risks schools and MATs need to manage to ensure safe learning environments.

Off-site activities and trips also come with their own unique risks. A keen awareness and understanding of appropriate H&S measures is essential. So children can enjoy enriching experiences outside of school in complete safety.

Failure to manage hazards in schools can result in:

  • Emotional trauma for pupils and staff
  • Downtime for investigation and corrective actions
  • Increased absences and decreased productivity
  • Loss of budgets
  • Costly fines and legal expenses (in the worst cases)

The good news is that, not to mention cancelling out the above, adequately controlling risk can benefit educators in numerous ways:

  • Teachers’ performance is enhanced as they don’t have to concern themselves with potential risks in a classroom
  • Money is saved due a reduction in sick days and increased productivity
  • Teachers’ and students’ emotional needs are met, improving their happiness and performance
  • Budgets are bigger as schools don’t have to account for sudden payouts from fines and legal expenses

Let’s break down the key risks school environments pose to help you build your awareness, take appropriate action and reap the above benefits.

Asbestos

According to the National Education Union, more than 200 teachers have died across the country since 2001 from mesothelioma, a form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure.

“It is thought that about 90% of school buildings in England contain asbestos, often around pipes and boilers, and in walls and ceiling tiles,” reports Frances Perraudin of The Guardian.

With a greater span of buildings and estates to manage, MATs in particular need to be fully aware of any asbestos on their premises.

Asbestos only becomes a risk when it’s disturbed or damaged as fibre particles are released into the air. To combat this deadly occurrence, schools and academies must:

  • Find out which materials are likely to contain asbestos, where they can be found and keep an updated record of the location and condition
  • Assess the risk of exposure
  • Plan how asbestos risks will be managed (e.g. give staff guidance on nailing pieces of work to the walls that may contain asbestos)

HSE has a step-by-step guide to help employers assess and manage asbestos on their premises. You can access it here.

Falls, slips and trips

Each year slips and trips cause approximately 111,000 major injuries in the workplace. School’s are particularly hazardous environments for such incidents – large numbers of people often rush around at the same time and classrooms can be full of obstructions.

Fortunately, there are low cost and simple solutions that address these hazards:

  • Ensuring bags don’t obstruct the classroom floor
  • Providing more storage facilities to decrease the number of boxes and other objects in walkways 
  • Ensuring cables don’t trail across the room
  • Creating suitable footwear policies for staff and students
  • Installing adequate lighting, especially in areas that change in level or have uneven surfaces
  • Creating detailed procedures for identifying, reporting and cleaning up spillages as well as for carrying out routine cleaning of floors

For more guidance on preventing slips and trips at school, visit HSE’s dedicated page.

Playgrounds and outdoor areas

A Gravesend primary school made headlines when it banned running in the playground. This is a prime example of taking health and safety measures a step too far, inhibiting children from having fun at school.

Rather, managing risk in the playground is about ensuring:

  • Outdoor play areas meet recommended safety standards for their construction and design
  • The manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines are followed for equipment installation and maintenance
  • Policies and procedures are created and communicated for safe use of equipment

You can read more about HSE’s guidelines for school playgrounds here.

School Trips

The risks associated with school trips have been blown out of proportion in recent years as newspapers jump on incidents faster than lightning. HSE acknowledges this and has created a guide to tackle health and safety myths surrounding school trips, stating:

“Learning outside the classroom helps to bring the curriculum to life – it provides deeper subject learning and increases self-confidence. It also helps pupils develop their risk awareness and prepares them for their future working lives.”

So by no means does HSE recommend that school trips are abolished. It simply asks educators to:

  • Focus on real risks when planning trips
  • Ensure those running the trips understand their roles, are supported and are competent to lead or take part in them
  • Manage real risks during the trip
  • Heed advice and warnings from others (e.g) those with local knowledge or specialist expertise

You can read this guide in full here.

Do teachers need health and safety training?

Absolutely, and it’s not just teachers. All employees require an awareness of health and safety by law and this may include elements such as experiments, use of tools and equipment, fire safety, medical and first aid awareness, risk assessment and how to report and investigate accidents.

Taking that extra safeguarding step

Enlisting the help of a competent health and safety person is the key to managing all the risks associated with schools and ensuring staff are trained up in H&S measures.

Vita Safety has vast experience helping educators improve their school’s health and safety. In fact, we recently partnered with One Education to deliver tailored risk management support and consultancy to the schools it works with.

You can find out more about our specialist services in this blog. But to summarise, we can help schools:

  • meet their legal obligations and protect pupils, colleagues, contractors and visitors with compliance audits tailored to the school.
  • create strong policies, procedures, handbooks and school-specific health and safety management systems to cover all their risk management needs.
  • identify and close gaps that increase the risk of incidents and leave educators vulnerable to prosecution
  • deliver a range of courses to executives, general managers, teachers and facilities staff covering:
  • managing contractors
  • risk assessment for school trips
  • fire safety
  • first aid
  • property risk management

With our help, schools can enable risk exposure in a controlled way so pupils can learn more about themselves, other people and the world we live in.

Contact a member of our team today on 0161 486 5020 (Manchester) or 0203 126 4997 (London) to discuss your academy or primary school’s health and safety.

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