Health and safety challenges for school academies

Health and safety | June 2016

students in classroom
Matthew Henderson, a Health and Safety Consultant at System Concepts, looks at the health and safety challenges for school academies.

Proposals to compel all of England’s schools to become academies have proved controversial, and been dropped by the government. Nevertheless, academies are here to stay, and although the government will no longer compel all schools to make the change, we don’t know what the future policy will be.

For schools that are making the change to academy status, what are the health and safety challenges they need to address?

Health and safety standards

When a school moves to academy status, the emphasis must be on ensuring continuing high standards of health and safety, at least comparable to those achieved while under local authority control. For many schools this will be a major challenge.

As an academy, a school’s governing body assumes all employer health and safety responsibilities. Academies will not be able to automatically call upon local authority support. Governors in school academies need to be aware that with responsibility comes accountability – and ultimately liability, should they fail to adequately manage health and safety.

School governors as landlords

School academies the land and property they sit on from the local authority. The governing body becomes the landlord, and assumes responsibility for ensuring accommodation remains sufficient and suitable.

It’s possible that the change to academy status might involve changes to services previously procured through the local authority. Academies face having to procure their own building maintenance contractors to meet statutory inspection and maintenance requirements, for the buildings and associated plant and equipment. This includes asbestos management, water hygiene and certification of gas fired boilers, fixed wiring and portable electrical inspections, and the testing and inspection of fire equipment and lifts.

What are the compliance challenges for school academies?

Compliance with these statutory duties is vital in helping to ensure the safety of pupils, staff and visitors. In other words, academies must learn to stand on their own two feet – and fast.

But, academies aren’t expected to do it all on their own. One of the first things they must consider, is appointing a Competent Person under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations.

Trusted schools’ health and safety advisors

The challenge for academies won’t be finding a company that will be happy to help – there are plenty of those out there. However, academies must be careful who they entrust this to, as they still run the risk of possible legal action in the event that either incorrect advice is given, or appropriate advice not given, and someone is injured as a result.

The real test for academies will be demonstrating that health, safety and wellbeing is properly managed by a Competent Person: one who understands the unique health and safety challenges facing schools, and is aware of the school’s responsibilities and liabilities.

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