Leading Sensible Health and Safety Management in Schools

Sensible health and safety management means making sure that the focus is on real risks with the potential to cause harm, not wasting resources on trivial matters and unnecessary paperwork. In short effective leaders follow a sensible and proportionate approach to health and safety management that promotes risk awareness rather than risk avoidance.


While many schools manage health and safety effectively and sensibly, some have adopted over cautious approaches. This means that pupils are missing out on challenging and exciting activities and learning opportunities, and the chance to develop new skills.

In schools, sensible health and safety starts at the top and relies on every member of the management team making sure that risk is managed responsibly and proportionately. It is about creating a safe learning environment, giving pupils an appreciation of risk and how to deal with it. It means doing what is reasonably practicable to reduce significant risks by putting in place control measures to manage the real risks. It is not about the elimination of all risk.

Health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse to justify not allowing some school activities to go ahead when in fact health and safety legislation does not apply.

 Ask yourself:

  • Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
  • If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
  • Do I have access to a competent person?

Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of your risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in your school/college. A good starting point is to walk around your school/college and think about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health?

Health and safety hazards in schools typically include on site vehicle movement, falls from height, slips and trips, stress management, work related violence, asbestos management, legionella, construction and maintenance activities and manual handling.

As part of managing the health and safety of your school, you must control the risks in your school.

To do this you need to think about what - in your school - might cause harm and whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is known as a risk assessment. Doing this means you are taking steps to protect your students, teachers etc.  Your risk assessment will also tell you whether you have covered everything you need to.

 A competent person

You must get help from a competent person to enable you to meet the requirements of health and safety law. A competent person is someone who has sufficient training, experience, knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the help you need.

What does health and safety legislation cover?

Health and safety law applies to work activities carried out by the school, including off-site activities such as school trips. The law applies to risks to staff, pupils and visitors created by those work activities. The law also applies to the work of contractors in the school.

Management tasks

  • How is health and safety included in the processes or management arrangements you have for running the business?
  • Are the health and safety responsibilities of key people set out, for example?
  • How do you ensure access to competent advice?
  • Who is the champion/focus at the board?
  • Who sets policy and standards?
  • Who monitors performance?
  • Are responsibilities reflected in job descriptions?
  • How do you ensure health and safety information is communicated effectively inside and beyond your school?
  • How do you control contractors?
  • How do you review your health and safety performance?
  • What is not covered?

Schools, academies and MATs must manage many other child protection, public safety and public health issues that are not regulated by occupational health and safety law. This can lead to confusion about ‘health and safety‘ requirements.

Some examples of where other authorities have responsibility include:

  • Promoting the welfare and wellbeing of pupils
  • Communicable diseases
  • Behaviour and discipline of pupils
  • Criminal record checks
  • Food hygiene
  • Driving/licensing of school minibus drivers
  • Use of seat belts on buses
  • Waste and pollution control

Remember - It is essential that risk assessments be carried out by a competent person.

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