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Whole School Guidance

//Whole School Guidance
Whole School Guidance2018-08-24T15:49:22+00:00

As well as the extemsive Health and safety information that can be found under the various subject headings, SSERC is aware that there are some aspects that affect more than one department, often a whole school.

In this section you will find, under the different tabs below, details about the overall nature of Health and Safety and how it affects schools, the different roles and responsibilities that lie on different members of staff and the various bodies that may come into a school to look at, amongst other things, aspects of Health and Safety.

You will also find a tab containing policy frameworks (templates) to help you construct Health and Safety policies for the Whole School, and the Science, Technology and Home Economics departments.

In the page on Whole School Risk Assessments, you will find protocols and risk assessments for numerous school and school-related activities,

You may also find it useful to consult the section on The Risk Assessment process, which contains information on how to make a risk assessment using the HSE five-step process, including templates and examples and links to risk assessments for many activities found in other sections of our website.

SSERC acknowledges the support of the Health and Safety Executive in producing the “The REAL facts” article, and information on roles and responsibilities and visitors to schools on health and safety business

Where do you fit in? 

Health and safety is a whole-school issue affecting all staff, pupils, volunteers and visitors.

Responsibilities under health and safety law

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 ‘The Act’ applies in schools because there is employment – as well as being learning establishments, schools are workplaces. The Act places responsibilities on the employer (the Local Authority) and employees (head teacher, teachers, technicians, caretaking/maintenance staff, catering staff, cleaners, administrators etc).

The Local Authority is responsible for ensuring that they have done all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of employees, pupils, volunteers, contractors and visitors to the school.

They can delegate health and safety functions to members of staff in the school to fulfil health and safety responsibilities on their behalf but they cannot delegate their employer’s responsibilities.

Some LA schools operate under Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreements, whereby some services e.g. facilities management, catering, cleaning, etc are delivered through the PPP provider and their employees or contractors. In these schools, the LA and the PPP provider will both have responsibilities for managing health and safety.

Even in non PPP schools, not all of the staff that work in schools may be employees of the Local Authority, for example, cleaning staff may be employed by a cleaning contractor. If the work practices of the contractor are causing health and safety risks to others on the school premises it is perfectly acceptable for school staff to challenge these practices .

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places general duties on employees.

Head teacher, teachers, technicians, caretaking/maintenance staff, catering staff, cleaners, administrators etc can all be employees for the purposes of the Act.

What you must do as an individual to comply with the law:

  • Follow the training you have received from your employer
  • Take reasonable care for your own and other people’s health and safety
  • Co-operate with your employer on health and safety to enable them to comply with their duties or requirements under the statutory provisions
  • Inform your employer (via an appropriate route) if you think your own or others’ health and safety is being put at risk.
  • Schools are about providing children with a range of valuable learning experiences. That means managing risks responsibly and sensibly – not trying to eliminate them altogether
  • Risk assessments should be fit for purpose for the school – and should be put into action
  • Don’t struggle alone! Pool resources and work with your local authority and other schools. Many will have developed great approaches that you can adapt to meet your needs. Take advantage of training opportunities provided by your local authority and use the resources of the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (SSERC)

Depending on your role/position in the school, you will have different responsibilities when it comes to Health and Safety. More details about these different roles can be found below. There is also more information available from the HSE website.

Head Teachers

As a head teacher you have a vital role to play in the day to day operational management of health and safety matters in your school. It is important that you provide visible leadership on sensible risk management for the whole school. For example, you can make sure that health and safety is a regular agenda item at senior management and departmental team meetings and you can intervene if staff are being too risk-averse.

Whilst overall accountability lies with the employer, head teachers and the school management team have considerable autonomy in the day-to-day running of their schools.

Head teachers should:

  • Ensure that the school is following the Local Authority’s health and safety policy
  • Put in place effective arrangements for managing real health and safety risks at the school
  • Liaise with the Local Authority on health and safety issues
  • Consult with recognised TU safety representatives/employee representatives
  • Ensure that purchasing and contracting procedures are monitored so that risks are effectively managed.

Principal Teachers, Heads of Department/Faculty/Curriculum

As a Principal Teacher of a subject area you have specific expertise in your subject and are therefore in the best position to take an overview of the arrangements for managing risk in your department. Some schools have Heads of Department/Faculty/Curriculum. As a Department, Faculty or Curriculum Head you may have responsibility for a number of subjects, some of which may be outwith your specific area of expertise.

You need to satisfy yourself that risks associated with the activities of your department(s)/faculty/curriculum area(s) are properly controlled and managed proportionately. You also need to make sure that departmental policies and procedures are followed and compliance with them is monitored. Don’t ask for extra precautions from staff “just to be on the safe side”. The expectations that you place on staff in your department to manage health and safety properly are the vital foundations of a positive health and safety culture.

Teachers & Teaching Support Staff

You have a vital role to play in setting an example to pupils of how to do work safely – in the classroom and in the wider world of work. Your positive influence can help in the most straightforward of situations, such as avoiding injuries caused by falls e.g. from stage productions.

Teaching staff have specific responsibilities for ensuring pupils’ health and safety when they are on school premises or engaged in supervised activities elsewhere. In particular you need to make sure that the lessons or activities you are running are covered by a ‘fit for purpose’ risk assessment and you need to take reasonable steps to follow the actions identified in the risk assessment. But, remember, the law is not about creating a totally risk free environment. [DN link to overarching statement]

You also have responsibility for maintaining good order and discipline among pupils and in this respect you act in loco parentis.

Health and safety management and discipline are two distinct issues. As an example, if a pupil is injured because another pupil throws a ruler as a result of a breakdown in discipline, this is a discipline matter, NOT a health and safety issue.

Caretakers, janitors and maintenance staff

If you are a caretaker, janitor or maintenance staff in a school you will probably carry out tasks that put you at more risk than other school staff. Assessment of risk and sensible risk management is essential – in particular safe systems for work at height and maintenance activities including the management of asbestos containing materials in school premises

Catering & Cleaning Staff

All staff have a role in clearing up spillages, your actions in cleaning floors and dealing with contamination on floors could make the difference between someone being injured or not.


As a technician your actions will have a direct bearing on pupils’ health and safety during the running of lessons. For example, if you are involved in setting up an experiment for pupils, make sure that you are familiar with the risk assessment for that experiment and follow the identified procedures and precautions.

You may also be responsible for handling some fairly hazardous materials such as radioactive substances, concentrated acids, etc. You must be familiar with procedures for safe handling and storage as if you get this wrong you could harm others – not just yourself.


The law requires the school and its staff to manage the risks to your health and safety. Everyone in the school works very hard to make the school a safe place for you and to give you the opportunity to experience exciting learning activities.

But this only works well if you take personal responsibility for your own health and safety and others round about you. You can really help by listening closely to the instructions of your teacher and following them carefully. Never interfere with or misuse anything that has been provided for your safety.

For example, if your teacher instructs you to wear goggles during a chemistry experiment to protect your eyes then it is up to you to make sure you wear them. If you take the goggles off while your teacher’s back is turned and something goes wrong, your teacher is not to blame. In the world of work you will be expected to take personal responsibility for your own health and safety.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the regulator for health and safety in the workplace in Great Britain. HSE inspectors enforce health and safety law in educational establishments such as schools, colleges and universities, covering both on site and off site activities in GB. HSE inspectors visit schools to investigate accidents, ill health, or complaints. They may also carry out inspections for example on asbestos management.

HSE inspectors have a legal right to enter premises and do not need to give notice in advance of a visit, however they often do. Inspectors may offer advice or guidance, either verbal or written, to help school employers 1 comply with health and safety legislation. If there is a serious risk to health and safety, the inspector may take enforcement action, such as serving improvement or prohibition notices. In the most serious cases, HSE inspectors (in Scotland) can report offences to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service2. Any enforcement action that is taken will be in accordance with HSE’s Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS) and the Enforcement Management Model (EMM).

1Overall responsibility for health and safety lies with the employer. Who the employer is will depend on the category of school. For independent schools it is the Board of Governors, proprietor, etc. For state funded schools it is the Local Authority

2 In Scotland HSE does not conduct prosecutions – it reports offences to the Procurator Fiscal and it is for COPFS to decide as to whether or not to prosecute.

Local Authority Environmental Health Officers

Local Authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are primarily concerned with advising and enforcing on public health matters. They are involved in a variety of activities across the local community including workplace health and safety (not in schools), waste management, food standards and safety, pollution control, etc. EHOs do visit schools to advise on food safety standards and to carry out inspections to check that food is prepared, handled, stored and served in a hygienic and safe way. EHOs visit schools either by appointment or by making unannounced visits.

Local Authority Health & Safety Health Officers

As employers, Local Authorities (LA) are required to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others, such as pupils, contractors, etc, so far as is reasonably practicable. Employers are required to appoint competent persons to advise on the provision of protective measures for the workforce and this is a role the advisers fulfil.

LA health and safety advisers are typically responsible for advising and for promoting a commitment to health and safety by LAs to assist them in complying with their statutory duties under health and safety law. They provide competent health and safety advice, written guidance and training. Their responsibilities include:

  • advising on risk assessments compiled by others in the LA and/or carrying out risk assessments (mostly they advise);
  • conducting site inspections, audits and examinations to check compliance with relevant legislation, council and departmental policies and procedures;
  • carrying out investigations of accidents, incidents, dangerous occurrences, near misses and cases of occupational ill health;
  • providing advice, guidance and support to line management on the appropriate interpretation of new and existing legislation and on the implementation of policies and systems to achieve required standards and working practices;
  • providing advice to managers in the event of an inspection by HSE

LA health and safety advisers usually visit by appointment but may pay unannounced visits too.
Some Local Authorities have advisers who specialise in health and safety in education. They may either be a member of the corporate health and safety team or part of the education department. They will occasionally visit schools as part of their work. In some cases, the corporate team will cover all aspects of health and safety, apart from outdoor education. In these circumstances, the LA may employ an Outdoor Education Adviser. Their role is to provide expert advice on visits in general, and more specifically to assess the potential risks to those participating in school trips and on adventure activities, expeditions and overseas visits.

Local Authority Property Advisors

Local authorities may also have personnel, often known as Property Advisers, who deal with estates related health and safety matters. They visit schools to check on e.g. management of asbestos, control of legionella, etc. They normally visit schools by appointment.

Trades Union appointed Health and Safety Representatives

Many schools will have their own union appointed health and safety representative. Health and safety representatives are independent of management and their role is to represent the interests and concerns of their co-workers in relation to health and safety matters. They conduct general safety tours/inspections of schools, typically every three months, but sometimes less frequently, and investigate complaints and accidents. Before carrying out school inspections, they are required to give management reasonable notice in writing.

Education Scotland is the national body for Scottish education established in 2011. It brought together the work of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education and some functions, previously carried out by the Scottish Government. Part of its work involves the inspection of educational establishments to evaluate and assess the quality of education provided by schools and to publish reports of the inspections. Schools are given 2-3 weeks written notice before the start of inspections, which typically last a school week. Education Scotland HM Inspectors’ focus is on education – not health and safety – so they do not consider health and safety issues proactively during inspections. However if they encounter issues that have health and safety implications for learning and teaching they may include the findings in their report and may require remedial action to be taken.

Although public sector organisations, including Local Authorities, are exempt from the requirement to have Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI), the liability to employees still remains and most Local Authorities choose to hold insurance that cover employees as well as third party or public liability.

Insurance companies employ surveyors, who may undertake site visits to determine the level of insurance cover. The assessment may include many aspects of health and safety along with other commercial aspects of the property for insurance purposes i.e. security, fire, theft, terrorism, etc. Advice may be provided on risk improvements and requirements to reduce the risk level at the property. Insurance companies may also visit schools to inspect and test equipment, such as fume cupboards, to assess whether it is performing correctly.

They also employ insurance adjusters, examiners, and investigators, whose responsibilities include investigating claims, analysing information and collecting evidence for court action. On occasions, they may need to visit schools to investigate personal or building/property related compensation claims.

conkers2The REAL facts about health and safety and what schools are allowed to do

Misunderstandings about the application of health and safety law has, in some cases, discouraged schools and teachers from carrying out a range of learning activities both inside and outside the classroom. These misunderstandings can also be fuelled by fears of civil action or concerns about the need for detailed paperwork.

Along with the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland and the Scottish Government, SSERC wants to make sure that mistaken and unfounded health and safety concerns do not create obstacles to enabling innovative learning to take place in Scotland’s schools. Such activities include craft, design and technology, practical science, curriculum based field activities, and school trips. Not only do such activities provide immense opportunities for learning and for bringing the Curriculum for Excellence to life but they are also a great way of putting hazard and risk into context for the workforce of tomorrow.

There is a great deal of sensible and proportionate risk management practice within Scottish schools. But sometimes the approach to risk management in education can be overly bureaucratic and may focus too much on trivial and fanciful risks (“bonkers conkers”) when higher risks activities (e.g. use of certain chemicals in laboratory experiments, woodworking, some sporting activities, etc) are the ones that need to be properly planned and assessed. With the majority of the Scottish schools sector being under Local Authority (LA) management, LAs have a key role to play in taking the lead in reducing bureaucracy.

A proportionate approach to the management of health and safety risks in schools is about:

• protecting pupils and staff from real harm
• enabling innovation and learning opportunities to take place
• helping those who create the risks to manage them sensibly and responsibly

It’s NOT about:

• creating a totally risk free environment
• stifling initiative and stopping learning activities where risks are managed
• generating mountains of paperwork

The links below allow you to download framework health and safety policies. They are all in Microsoft Word format so you can customise them to suit your own needs.

At present some of these are offline, being revised, but will soon be available for download again

Science Policy Framework (Revised November 2015)

Technology Education

 Home Economics 

Whole School Policy Framework (Revised February 2016)

Pages within Whole School Guidance

Whole School Risk Assessments

Whole School Risk Assessments