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The Law on Health and safety in schools

Basic issues

The Health and Safety at work etc Act 1974 and associated regulations govern the safety law in schools relating to school staff, visitors and pupils on and off site. Depending on the type of school, the following employer will be responsible for its staff, pupils, visitors and the general health and safety of the school:

- For community schools, community special schools, voluntary-controlled schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units, the employer is the local authority.

- For foundation schools, foundation special schools and voluntary-aided schools, the employer is usually the governing body.

- For independent schools, the employer is usually the governing body proprietor.

It is imperative that the employer has a health and safety policy that is clearly communicated to everyone and displayed for ease of access.

In practical terms, certain tasks may well be delegated to individual members of staff but the employer will retain ultimate responsibility. It is also important that risk assessments are carried out on all activities, and measures are put in place to minimise or control risks. That risk assessment should be reviewed at least once a year, and any changes implemented promptly thereafter.

Any changes should clearly be communicated to staff as soon as they are made. Risk assessment is crucial for educational visits.

Any direction given to the school by the employer, in respect of health and safety, should always be complied with and if it cannot be complied with for any reason, the school should communicate this in writing to the employer to ensure that any measures required are implemented straight away by the employer, to enable the school to comply with the direction.

By law, all schools must have employer liability insurance covering areas such as occupational liability.

There is guidance produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families entitled "Health and Safety: Responsibilities and Powers" that should always be considered and adhered to.

Information supplied by Anita Chopra, partner at Match Solicitors. www.matchsolicitors.com.

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