• The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many organisations to change the way they work for health and safety reasons.
• Schools should address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic through their risk assessment process.
• As the effects of the pandemic are set to be with us for some time to come, it is now important to ensure that COVID-19 safety measures are included in our health and safety policy.
• Changes to the health and safety policy to incorporate COVID-19 need to be communicated to all staff.
Health and safety starts in the health and safety policy, is translated into risk assessments and training that influence our actions and behaviours, and is then modified and improved through the audit process feeding back into the policy, and so on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many organisations to change the way they work. In the short term, many organisations have addressed the effects of the coronavirus pandemic through their risk assessment process. As the effects of the pandemic are set to be with us for some time to come, it is now important to ensure that these are included in our health and safety policy. For schools and academies, this can be achieved effectively by the inclusion of a new COVID-19 policy within the health and safety policy document. This needs to be communicated to all staff.
Some simple changes include:
• social distancing
• increased working from home
• staggered start and end times for the day
• a more rigorous cleaning regime for the premises
• increased reliance on hand washing and hand sanitisation
• the use of face coverings.
Following some of these changes, now would be a sensible time to fully review and update the health and safety policy for the school. Some of the changes to the policy that should be considered include:
• social distancing
• premises cleaning
• personal hygiene
• using face coverings
• training, instruction, monitoring and enforcement.
Social distancing is not merely about people keeping two metres apart from each other, but includes fundamentals relating to the operation of schools and academies that allow this to be achieved. This includes, for example, controlling the number of people attending the site at any one time; movement of people through the premises and the potential for one-way systems; mitigation methods that may be required when social distancing is compromised, and so on. These issues are so enmeshed in how schools and academies work that they cannot be considered in isolation, and so should form part of the health and safety policy.
Social distancing may also affect how many people are allowed in at one time, the control of visitors and contractors, and so on.
The concept of one metre plus
There will be many occasions when the ability to social distance by keeping a two-metre separation may be compromised. In such cases, it may be necessary to introduce additional control measures (mitigation) in order to protect people from the coronavirus. Such control measures may include:
- clear plastic screens (barriers) at reception areas
- reconfigured seating arrangements (back to back, rather than face to face)
- enhanced hand washing
- appropriate use of face coverings or face shields.
Enhanced premises cleaning has been a major focus during the current pandemic. There are several areas to which particular attention should be given, including the cleaning and sanitisation of touchpoints, such as:
• door handles
• control pads, buttons and switches
• playground equipment.
For most organisations it is no longer sufficient to rely on external cleaning. To ensure that suitable housekeeping standards are maintained, it is important to involve all members of the team. As a result, it is important to provide suitable cleaning materials (such as disposable wipes) and to instruct and encourage team members to use these regularly.
Personal hygiene (hand washing and sanitising stations)
Personal hygiene, particularly in the form of hand washing, has been established as one of the main control measures for dealing with the current pandemic. As such, it should form an essential part of the health and safety policy. In addition, lack of hand washing facilities can form a threat to the organisation and should be reviewed and supplemented as appropriate. Although hand sanitiser stations may be used to supplement hand washing facilities, they should not replace them.
Use of hand sanitisers has increased enormously during the course of the pandemic. It should be noted, however, that most hand sanitisers are based on alcohol (either ethanol or isopropanol), and as such may damage the skin.
Use of face coverings
In instances where social distancing may be compromised, it is important to have additional control measures (mitigation) available, such as the appropriate use of face coverings. Face coverings are intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus through droplets, rather than as a method for the personal protection of the wearer. As such, face coverings are only effective as a measure for mitigation if they are worn by all parties at all relevant times.
Training, instruction, monitoring and enforcement
In many workplaces (including schools and academies) there have been substantial changes to the structure and operation of the organisation, and in some instances, people have been absent from the workplace for substantial periods.
It is necessary to provide all staff with a revised induction training (or refresher training) session relating to the new control measures in place within the premises. It is important that all such training is carried out in a sensible and effective manner while ensuring that the important messages are communicated and understood.
The creating/updating of the health and safety policy and the introduction of control measures throughout the organisation cover the PLAN and the DO aspect of the PDCA cycle. It is important that the effectiveness of these control measures is checked and audited as appropriate to the risk. It is also important that when failings are identified, actions are taken. To rectify these failings there needs to be feedback into the system (including the health and safety policy and the risk assessment) to improve how the system works. This covers the CHECK and ACT part of the PDCA cycle.
• Professional standards for teaching assistants, NEU: https://bit.ly/3l2PPsy
• School business management competency framework, NCTL, 2014: http://bit.ly/2mme4Hq
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Michael Ellerby is Director of LRB Consulting, a health and safety consultancy, and is listed on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR), a Chartered Safety Professional, a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), a Chartered Chemist (CChem), and a Member of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers (MIFSM). Michael works with a wide range of clients, including schools, and has been assisting organisation regarding safe working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.lrbconsulting.co.uk