Establishing correct health and safety policies

Debate – Primary School

What was the issue addressed?
The school had concerns over school hall size and emergency evacuation, the numbers permitted for school fayre and controls over safe numbers of children and adults for a given space, also whether there was a clear exit plan. It was surprising that these things were not clearly stated.

What happened?
Fire and Rescue Service attended the school but we felt their advice was ambiguous. We eventually found guidelines through an online search and attempted to control access by counting in and out.

What lessons were learnt?
It was useful to listen to the advice from a range of agencies, the Fire and Rescue Service, the legal team at the Local Authority and other experts. Our own investigations were also important in arriving at a resolution but we still feel there are ambiguities that remain unsettling.

The school and governing body are absolutely right to check and review its emergency evacuation plans. This is of utmost importance for the safety of all at the school.

Community school buildings and land are owned by the local authority (LA). The land at foundation schools is owned by the governing body or trustees. In Voluntary Aided schools, the school buildings and land are usually owned by trustees, although the Local Authority may own the playing field land. Chapter 25 of School Governors Guide to the Law has a useful chapter on Health and Safety that identifies where the responsibilities lie for the different categories of schools.

It is assumed in this case that the school in question is a community school.

The school will have a health and safety policy and it is noted that they have also sought advice from several key agencies. Undoubtedly, risk assessments would have been carried out and it is envisaged that the Local Authority would have played a key role in assisting the school in determining the correct way forward.

Many governing bodies appoint a link governor for health and safety, as well as forming a committee for premises, health and safety. Governors Cymru Services has information on these:

Link governor role

Premises, Health and Safety committee

Bearing in mind the complexity of Health and safety, it is essential that the school and governing body seeks advice from the experts, so please contact the relevant officers at the Local Authority who will be able to provide advice in the first instance. Has the governing body signed up to a Service Level Agreement for repairs and maintenance with the Local Authority? How often are health and safety inspections carried out? Is there a designated health and safety officer for the school?

The Health and Safety Executive has lots of useful information too:

The case studies indicate that there are still some ambiguities arising from discussion. It is essential, therefore, that a clear path of action is agreed with the key stakeholders as soon as possible. Keeping a paper trail as an evidence base is also very important.

Does your school have a clear safety policy related to fire and danger evacuations from school sites?
Which agencies would you seek advice from about a specific health and safety issue affecting your school?

Have your say…
Have you had experiences similar to these?
What do you think about the situation described?

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