- As the lead person for health and safety, the SBM must be aware of the key legislation relating to H&S and their duties in relation to this.
- One of the best ways to do this is to seek out comprehensive H&S training that covers all of the responsibilities of the school.
- Equally important is having site-specific knowledge about your school.
- How soon you get stuck into H&S will depend on the structure of your school and whether you have a premises team already in place.
- You need to keep others in the loop on H&S issues, especially those who aren’t involved with it on a day-to-day basis.
If asked, most people will tell you that SBMs are the people in control of the school budget, and who are responsible for making sure the school runs in a way that maximises value for money and uses the budget most efficiently. Health and safety (H&S) is an aspect of the role that is mentioned less frequently, at least by those looking in from the outside – and it is sometimes overlooked even by those on the inside. For example, when I was very new in role at my first school, I did not immediately get involved with premises management, opting instead to leave it in the hands of my capable premises manager. He had been in post for more than 20 years, so I had no doubts that he knew what he was doing and that things would run smoothly. However, once I was able to turn my attention to it, the experience was a real eye-opener as I realised the huge implications for the health and safety of the school.
Why is the SBM’s role in health and safety important?
There are many aspects of health and safety that are governed by legislation. It goes without saying that if you have a legal duty to do something or prevent something, you need to know what that is and make sure it’s being actioned in your school.
The key pieces of legislation in this respect are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Others include the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! As the lead person for health and safety (especially in a primary school setting), the SBM simply cannot afford to sit back and think that H&S will manage itself.
Just a few of the duties the legislation makes a requirement are:
- to have a written H&S policy
- to assess risks and then put in place controls to reduce those risks
- to appoint a competent person to oversee health and safety (this duty is generally taken on by the SBM)
- to provide information and training on H&S
- to provide adequate heating, ventilation and lighting in the workplace
- to provide adequate staff facilities.
All of these duties require actively putting things in place, so health and safety cannot be managed in a passive way. It is imperative that you make sure that you are up to speed with what is required of you, and how you can fulfil your duties.
How do you acquire the knowledge?
I would advise seeking out comprehensive H&S training that covers all of the responsibilities of the school. I chose to go with the IOSH Management of Health and Safety in Education. It’s a two-day intensive course and gave me all the knowledge I needed to gain confidence in such a tricky area. This was a useful foundation for me and provided me with the overview I needed to understand the basics and, more importantly, the legalities of health and safety.
Please note that this course worked for me, but you may prefer a different training course or provider. The main thing is to ensure that you gain a strong understanding of the basics, after which you can pursue more specific courses such as asbestos awareness and legionella awareness. The SBM is likely to be named in the asbestos and legionella management plans as the ‘responsible person’, so having the right knowledge and training is crucial. I’ve recently had recommendations for some providers of online H&S courses. This is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure that all training is kept up to date for all staff involved in H&S.
Just as important as taking these courses is having site-specific knowledge about your school. Speak to the premises manager and schedule regular meetings so that you become familiar with the maintenance schedules, compliance data and training records. Many SBMs use a compliance system (such as Every) to keep track of these. As well as meetings, I’d advise taking regular walks around the school building and grounds. I use a checklist on my walkabouts so I can record issues and make sure they are followed up (see Checklist – Classroom health and safety in the Toolkit).
When should you do your training?
This is different with each school you join, but in my case I made asbestos awareness and legionella awareness training my top priorities due to the potentially serious implications if they are not managed adequately. In fact, I had only been in my current school for one day before sitting down with the most recent legionella risk assessment to get my head around it and map out any actions to be taken.
How soon you get stuck into H&S will depend on the structure of your school and whether you have a premises team already in place, or whether the norm is that the SBM keeps on top of it all and delegates actions. The important thing is to establish this as early as possible.
Who to keep in the loop?
As with everything, you need to keep others in the loop on H&S issues, especially those who aren’t involved with it on a day-to-day basis. There are a number of ways you can do this, including:
- having an H&S induction with all new members of staff
- including important H&S points in the visitor’s information sheet
- making use of staff briefings and INSET days to keep staff up to date
- asking teachers to complete classroom audits
- raising H&S issues at senior leadership team meetings
- providing copies of the minutes of premises team meetings to the headteacher
- providing a termly report to governors about H&S matters
- including the school council so that they can raise awareness among pupils.
These all allow me to be a champion for health and safety and ensure that the entire school community has an awareness of its importance.
Most SBMs seem to favour the financial side of the role, and when I first started I found the health and safety responsibilities quite scary and confusing. However, it’s important to get on top of it, and immensely satisfying when you are confident in the knowledge that your school is a safe environment for all.
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Cheryl Campbell has been a school business manager in South London since 2015, following a career in local government. She has over 13 years' experience as a primary school governor and is currently Vice Chair of the London Plus Association of School Business Managers