School staff have a propensity for falling from heights - so much, in fact, that the Health and Safety Commission had to publish guidance for schools. It is called: Keeping safe when working at height: advice for teachers and classroom assistants. The whole area is now covered by the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
There is no specific height. A place is "at height" if someone could be injured by falling from it, even if it is below ground level. Work includes any moving around at work, but not to and from work. The duty to ensure safety is laid on the employer and the employee. Everyone has to take care, including supply staff and volunteers.
Most of the falling down in schools occurs in putting up school play scenery, mounting classroom displays, retrieving objects kicked or thrown on to roofs by pupils, and the general lack of expertise in using ladders. These court danger and should only be used where there is low risk and a short duration. between 15 and 30 minutes.
The commission says schools should use safe systems: select, use and maintain suitable equipment; ensure that everyone who works at height is competent; and arrange that all work is properly managed and supervised. But first you should consider whether the proposed work at height could be done another way.
No one should work at height without permission, supervision or knowledge of safe practice. You need to know what the regulations say, which safety equipment to use, and be properly trained. Sensible risk assessments and control measures will normally do the trick.
Pupils should not work at height without parental agreement, proper relevant training, supervision, and necessary safety equipment. All staff, pupils and parents must know the school's policy on working at heights.
- Chris Lowe, Former head, trade union legal adviser and chief editor of Quick Guide Publishing.