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Taking panes

New rules mean reassessing glazing safety, advises Nick Carter.

From January 1, 1996 new legislation is coming into force under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which will mean schools reassessing the safety of all their existing glazing and if necessary acting to ensure all areas are safer for pupils and teachers.

The requirement to assess risks in new buildings came into force in 1993 under the Management of Health and Safety Act 1992, and required local education authorities and governing bodies to take stock of their glazing risks. This will now extend to existing school buildings. It does not only refer to windows, but also to glazed partitions, panels under hand rails and glass at high and low levels.

The Health and Safety Commission's view is that the legislation is setting the goals, leaving the managers of the premises to take appropriate action following the "risk assessment".

Since the Health and Safety Act 1974 came into force the assessment of risk is now a part of our working life. What remains unclear is how much one assessor may differ from another. Your view on safety will be modified according to whether you are a parent, teacher, governor or sales person.

Unfortunately, problems with glass are not new. In 1989 the Department of Education and Science issued a warning letter to all LEAs, following a serious accident in a school that had been built in the 1950s: "There is a distinct possibility that other schools may have similar potentially dangerous glazing. You may therefore wish to consider what steps should be taken to eliminate the risk of this type of accident in your schools."

The greatest likely risk in schools is glazing at the top and bottom of stairs, and glass below bench height, especially in buildings built in the 1950s and 1960s. The assessment should take account of all relevant factors, such as the location of the glazing, the activities taking place nearby, the volume of traffic and the history of previous incidents. Once the risk assessment has been completed by a competent assessor, the "safety" work will need to be completed in a reasonable time scale.

If a risk is perceived, schools should consider the following steps: o reorganise the traffic routes and walk ways; o add suitable barriers or screens to stop pupils coming into contact with the glazing; o upgrade the glazing with a "safety" stick-on film; o replace the existing glazing with new "safety" glass.

The key is not to be panicked by the sales rep's chat or the new legislation. Stand back and assess your school building in a business-like manner. Include the caretaker, staff and pupils in the discussions. Work out a realistic programme of work, with a suitable level of funding. Insist on getting a least three quotations for the work. There are companies entering the market who see schools as a soft target. If in any doubt about sales advice on the need to replace window frames and glazing consult your local Health and Safety Executive Area Office.

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