Health and Safety Legislation in Schools

health and safety legislation in schools

Even people working in education misunderstand health and safety for schools. They assume that regulations are complex or impractical. It’s easy to see where this misconception comes from. Children are more vulnerable than adults and predisposed to impulsive behaviour. So, school leaders must anticipate and address all conceivable classroom hazards.

This interpretation is half correct. Children are at risk during the six or so hours they’re away from their guardians. However, health and safety legislation in schools isn’t different from that in other workplaces. If the legislation is followed, pupils’ safety is almost guaranteed.

That said, children’s inherent vulnerability raises the stakes regarding health and safety at school. So, make yourself aware of the key legislation. You can be confident your school is compliant and your pupils are safe, letting you focus on delivering an exceptional education.

Primary Duty

Health and safety in UK schools is governed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). Under the HSWA, employers must protect the health and safety of all employees and anyone else who might be harmed by their operations. Schools are workplaces, so they are subject to the HSWA.

Children lack self-regulation or the capacity to follow complex health and safety procedures. It’s also essential for children to play with some level of independence and freedom. So, adults have to work a little harder to guarantee the health and safety of their pupils. However, HSWA compliance for schools is broadly similar to that of other workplaces.


Employers hold final accountability for health and safety matters. If an accident happens, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces the HSWA, will penalise the employer if they’ve failed to fulfil their duties.

Schools are no exception, but the organisation of private, public and independent schools differs, which can confuse accountability.

Typically, school employers are:

  • The local authority for state schools
  • A trust for academies or free and independent schools

You need extensive knowledge of a workplace and its people to manage health and safety effectively. School employers often lack this knowledge because they handle multiple sites from one centralised location. Most overcome this issue by delegating responsibilities related to health and safety at school to headteachers. The headteacher can then appoint others to assist with their duties. Accountability will remain with the employer, though.

Whoever is responsible for daily health and safety management must strike the right balance. The right balance means keeping pupils safe without denying them opportunities to develop and learn in exciting ways. It also means clearly defined roles and practical health and safety arrangements. You can check the balance in your school with the HSE’s free health and safety in schools checklist.

Health and Safety Courses

Our Health and Safety courses help trainees explore common workplace hazards that might become fatal if ignored. Understanding the nature of the problem can help control and manage the issue before it gets worse.

Other Responsibilities

Effective health and safety for schools depends on delegation to competent people. From policy writing to routine health and safety in classrooms, you can’t expect one person to fulfil every duty necessary to keep children safe.

The HSWA sets out your primary duty to protect all pupils and staff on-site. Still, compliance is impossible without following other statutory requirements. You must also know the different acts and regulations relevant to school safety.

Health and Safety Policy in Schools

Like other workplaces, health and safety policies in schools are necessary. You must tailor the policy to your school, but every document should set out:

  • Your health and safety aim
  • Who are the duty holders
  • How have duties been shared
  • Arrangements put in place to protect pupils and school staff
Health and Safety Policy in Schools

Schools handle policies better than most organisations because educators know that a policy must be regularly reviewed and amended to be effective. Your health and safety policy will be no different, so it’s recommended that you include review plans in the document, too.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessments are another constant in health and safety legislation. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all employers must complete one for their workplace by acting systematically to:

  • Identify hazards
  • Assess what harm hazards might cause and how likely it is to happen
  • Take steps to prevent or reduce that harm

You can only be confident your school is safe through risk assessment. It will also determine the other health and safety regulations you must comply with. Hazards in schools are typically conventional, with straightforward answers. However, you may find unique or harder-to-manage hazards through your assessment.

The HSE offers general guidance on making a school safe, most of which will be relevant to your school.

Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos is one of the most significant risks you will or won’t have to manage.

Asbestos was an incredibly popular building material post-WWII and, despite growing health concerns, was used up until its outright ban in 1999. This window of use means that asbestos is present in an estimated 21,500 UK schools built before 2000. If your school is one of them, you must comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to protect staff and pupils from exposure. This is one of the most significant pieces of health and safety legislation in schools.

First, you must arrange an asbestos survey if there’s the possibility asbestos is present in your school. The survey will verify this and, if asbestos is found, determine its location and condition.

Only competent people can conduct an asbestos survey because of exposure risks and because you need to be able to trust the findings. Safe asbestos management is based on the condition of the material and how likely others will come into contact with it.

If asbestos is in good condition and isolated, it’s considered low-risk. To make it safe, you need to plan how to prevent exposure and regularly check the asbestos for signs of damage. You must also provide asbestos awareness training to all staff.

If asbestos is already damaged or somewhere with high exposure risks, you must plan for its encapsulation or removal. Again, only competent people can do this because of the inherent danger and wider consequences if work is not up to standard.

You can find asbestos guidance specific to schools on the HSE’s website.

Fire Safety

Fire safety is a universal concern for schools. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all schools must conduct a fire safety risk assessment (FSRA). Your fire risk assessment should follow the same structure as your general risk assessment and detail the following:

  • Fire hazards and corresponding preventive measures
  • Fire wardens (staff with additional fire safety duties)
  • Evacuation plans

As part of your fire safety duties, you must rehearse evacuation plans regularly. These fire drills allow staff and pupils to practise evacuation, reducing the likelihood of panic or confusion in a real emergency. Drills also let you test whether evacuation procedures are adequate.

Reporting Incidents

If you’ve complied with health and safety laws, you can be confident that almost all accidents will be minor. In rare cases of more severe accidents, you must report them to the HSE.

Accident reporting is a requirement under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

RIDDOR guidance details which types of accidents are reportable, but generally, you must report when:

  • Accidents prove fatal
  • Accidents cause a ‘specified injury’ – typically severe injuries such as fractures or loss of consciousness
  • Accidents keep a staff member off work for more than seven days
  • Someone develops a disease connected to the work they do

Employee Duties

You can’t make your school safe without staff involvement. While it doesn’t supersede your overall risk assessment, teachers can support school safety by reviewing their classroom hazards. Provide them with this HSE checklist and they can help you identify safety issues that must be addressed.

School staff also have duties under the HSWA. Most notably, they should act to protect their own and others’ health and safety. But you can’t expect them to do this consistently without understanding safe systems of work, which is where staff training comes in.

Our online health and safety courses are an effective control for workplace hazards. Your staff can learn to protect against common risks, including injuries related to prolonged deskwork or unsafe manual handling. And as the courses are entirely online, they can be easily shared with your whole school without taking away from limited CPD time.

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Jonathan Goby
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