Health and safety
Those with duties for health and safety in schools should make sure that the policies and the condition of the estate are compliant with appropriate legislation.
The estate should be safe for all users. You should make sure:
- you recognise all property related health and safety issues
- you take appropriate actions to minimise any avoidable risks
- the estate complies with appropriate statutory and regulatory standards
- responsibilities for health and safety related issues are clearly defined and designated
Who should read this section
Read this section if you have legal duties under health and safety law, and/or responsibility for:
- managing the estate
- understanding and implementing health and safety requirements
- the day-to-day management of the estate
- executive leaders
- local authorities
- diocesan authorities and other religious authorities and bodies
- school business professionals
If you have an oversight role, you should read this section to understand who is accountable and that health and safety requirements are effectively addressed. You may have legal duties under health and safety law. This includes:
- charity trustees of academies and academy trusts
- trustees of schools
This guidance is intended to provide advice about the various responsibilities relating to the maintenance and management of the estate. If a school, local authority or academy trust is unsure about their responsibilities under law, they should seek independent professional advice.
Health and safety law and maintenance of the estate
What does the law say
The basis of British health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA). The regulator is the Health and Safety Executive.
The HSWA places overall responsibility for health and safety of employees and places of work with the employer, although other persons also have duties under the HSWA. For example, persons who have control of non-domestic premises have certain duties towards persons who are not their employees and who use those premises.
The HSWA sets out the broad principles for managing health and safety in most workplaces including schools. The main principles are included here. You should read the HSWA for detailed guidance and seek professional advice if you’re unsure.
The HSWA requires employers to:
- ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees
- conduct their undertaking in a way that does not expose non-employees to risks to their health and safety
Maintenance plays an important part in complying with health and safety law. As an employer, your duties include the:
- safe provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work associated with them
- provision of information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure the health and safety at work of employees
- maintenance of a safe place of work including access and a safe working environment
You cannot delegate your HSWA duties. You might be able to delegate performance of specific functions, but that does not release you as an employer from a legal duty.
For example You may appoint a competent person to carry out risk assessments, but you will still have ultimate responsibility for health and safety.
In schools, health and safety responsibilities are likely to be delegated. The designated person should ensure that:
- the school meets statutory compliance
- competent persons are engaged to assist with the various compliance areas
The management of health and safety
The general duties imposed by the HSWA are supported by a number of regulations. Of particular relevance is the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR). These require employers to appoint one or more competent persons to support compliance with the regulations. This includes those relating to maintenance and construction work.
The main principles are included here, but you should refer to the MHSWR to understand their full effect. You should seek independent legal advice if you’re unsure about the content or applicability of the MHSWR.
The MHSWR prefer employers to appoint a competent person who is already employed by their organisation.
A competent person should have:
- a core knowledge of the subject
- sufficient training
- the experience to apply that knowledge correctly
- the personal qualities needed to undertake functions effectively
The employer should ensure that this level of competence is retained. This will include regular training.
The MHSWR impose a number of duties on employers to manage health and safety including:
- making and reviewing suitable and sufficient assessments of risk
- recording the significant findings
- implementing appropriate preventive and protective measures
- monitoring and reviewing any preventative and protective measures taken
Some of these requirements only apply when certain criteria are met.
You should take account of health and safety monitoring arrangements when carrying out any repairs, maintenance and improvement projects.
You can find out more about risk in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on How to Control Risks at Work.
Who is the employer in schools
The relevant health and safety legislation places duties on the employer. The employer varies depending upon the type of school:
The local authority is the employer in:
- community and community special schools
- voluntary-controlled schools
- maintained nursery schools
- pupil referral units
The governing body is the employer in:
- foundation and foundation special schools
- voluntary-aided schools
The schools proprietor (the academy trust for academies and free schools) is the employer in:
- free schools
- other independent schools
Other legislation and codes of practice
In addition to the HSWA and MHSWR, there are a number of other pieces of legislation relevant to the operation of a school, for example, asbestos, Legionella and work with electricity.
HSE Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) and HSE guidance provide practical direction on the intentions of health and safety legislation.
Other standards may provide further direction such as British Standards (BS).
If you’re planning to carry out any construction works, you may also have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM).
There is a range of legislation which governs the use, occupation and maintenance of land and buildings.
You should make sure that you comply with the legislative requirements to protect the building fabric, systems and users. This is often referred to as statutory compliance in buildings.
Failure to comply with health and safety legislation may result in action, either under health and safety legislation or otherwise.
Items of plant and equipment are likely to be present in most schools. You will need to have information about these items and hold certification to show that they have been maintained.
The maintenance certification and information you require for each school will vary depending on the specific construction type and building services installed. You should seek independent professional advice if required.
You should hold information and certification for the following items. These are the items most likely to be in your buildings, but there may be more.
Air conditioning systems (see Water systems for wet systems)
An annual certificated inspection must be completed to make sure that there is no leakage of refrigerant. This is required under the Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2015.
This is applicable to installations with a total cooling capacity of 12kW or greater.
A Qualified Energy Assessor must carry out maintenance and certification.
A record of all asbestos, known or assumed to be present in all school premises must be held. Where asbestos is identified in school premises, written plans identifying the areas of the premises that are affected, and the measures that are to be taken for managing the risks from the asbestos must be in place. These must be reviewed regularly.
Find out more about asbestos management in schools.
Boilers (and other gas installations)
Maintenance must be carried out in accordance with Regulation 35 of the Gas Safety Installation and Use Regulations 1998 by a certificated competent technician.
It’s good practice to have annual safety checks carried out, but it is not a legal requirement - unless the premises are used for residential accommodation (for example, a boarding school) where regulation 36 would apply.
Find an appropriate gas engineer.
Fire escape and safety
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 imposes duties on employers and persons with control of school premises. You must, amongst other things, have an appropriate and up-to-date fire risk assessment for all buildings under your control.
See fire safety in the workplace for more information.
Electrical fixed wiring
The Institution of Engineering and Technology Guidance Note 3 recommends a maximum period of 5 years between inspections or tests of electrical installations.
Find an appropriate electrician.
Your lifts must usually be inspected at least every 6 months (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998). This may vary depending on the individual circumstances of each lift, which will be advised by the inspector.
Inspections will often be completed by an insurance company.
Find out more about lift examination and inspections.
Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) extraction systems
Systems should be thoroughly examined and tested at least every 14 months.
Find an appropriate LEV engineer.
To assess the risk of Legionella, a risk assessment of water systems should be carried out in accordance with the approved code of practice, L8. Depending on the findings of this assessment, a regime of monitoring may be recommended, as well as other measures to prevent and control the risk. Records of all checks and reviews of the scheme should be kept.
Find out more about Legionnaires disease.
Maintenance checks and testing
There can be many items of plant and equipment in the school estate. You will need to check and inspect them. There may be legislative requirements specific to individual items.
A summary of the main items are included in this manual. You may have other items of plant and equipment requiring maintenance checks.
You should seek independent professional advice if required.
Electrical and lighting systems: checks and testing
Find a summary of the checks and testing you should complete for:
- portable appliance testing (PAT)
- fixed electrical installation tests (including lightning conductors)
- emergency lighting
Portable appliance testing (PAT)
A portable or moveable electrical appliance can be defined as any item that can be moved, either connected or disconnected from an electrical supply. Portable or movable items generally have a lead (cable) and a plug.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAWR) state that electrical systems must be maintained to prevent danger. This includes any electrical equipment used by employees at work.
The law does not say how you must do this or how often. You should decide the level of maintenance needed according to the risk of an item becoming faulty, and how the equipment is constructed.
Not all electrical equipment will need a portable appliance test. In some cases, a simple user check and visual inspection is enough. Further details on how to ensure the safety of electrical equipment and how to carry out user checks and visual inspections can be found in the HSE’s Maintaining portable electric equipment in low-risk environments leaflet.
Items deemed unsafe to operate should be immediately rendered incapable of use until repaired or replaced.
Fixed electrical installation tests (including lightning conductors)
Electrical equipment should be visually checked to spot early signs of damage or deterioration. Equipment should be more thoroughly tested by a competent person often enough that there is little chance that the equipment will become dangerous between tests. Equipment used in a harsh environment should be tested more frequently than equipment that is less likely to become damaged or unsafe.
It is good practice to:
- make a decision on how often each piece of equipment should be checked
- write this down
- make sure checks are carried out
- write down the results
You should change how often you carry out checks according to the number and severity of faults found.
For illustrative purposes, many organisations plan inspection of fixed electrical installations every 5 years.
You should always have your electrical installation inspected and tested by a person who has the competence to do so.
Further advice on helping you control the risks from your use of electricity at work can be found in HSE’s Electrical safety and you leaflet.
Emergency lighting is lighting that is installed in a building to provide a degree of illumination when the normal lighting fails.
In terms of fire safety, the most important component of an emergency lighting system is the ‘escape lighting’ which is provided to illuminate escape routes to an extent sufficient to enable occupants to safely evacuate the building.
Schools are encouraged to undertake and record a monthly flash test. A more detailed 6-monthly condition test, including a 3-hour battery test by a competent person is also recommended. These are not HSE requirements but are good practice.
Lifts and lifting equipment: checks and testing
The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) require duty holders to ensure that lifts used by their employees for work are safe to use.
Where lifts are used primarily by members of the public, including pupils, the regulations do not apply directly but set a standard to follow to comply with Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Organisations will also wish to avoid breakdowns and for all these purposes, a preventive maintenance contract will usually be needed.
LOLER also requires people-carrying lifts to be thoroughly examined at least every 6 months. This involves a systematic and detailed examination of the lift and its associated equipment by a competent person such as an insurance provider. The competent person may call for supplementary testing in support of the thorough examination.
Organisations will wish to consider the safety of users in the event of the lift breakdown or stopping between floors. Options include a breakdown response contract as well as the normal maintenance contract, and/or training some employees in lift lowering and emergency door opening. The lift should have a suitable means of raising the alarm (for example, alarm call buttons, emergency telephones) and may have emergency lighting, which can help prevent panic if there is an electrical failure. Only lifts designed for use in the event of a fire should be used for evacuation.
SAFed Guidelines on the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 LOLER provides further guidance.
Thorough examination and testing of lifts is a simple guide for lift owners.
Heating and cooling systems: checks and testing
Find a summary of the checks and testing you should complete for:
- gas appliance and fittings
- fuel oil storage
- air conditioning systems (including heat pumps)
- pressure systems
Gas appliance and fittings
By law, anyone requiring gas work to be carried out must employ a Gas Safe Registered Engineer with a valid certificate of competence relevant to the particular type of gas work involved (for example, non-domestic). Gas appliances or fittings must not be used if it is known or suspected that they are unsafe.
In the HSE Approved Code of Practice, it is recommended that periodic routine maintenance is carried out on gas appliances, pipe work and flues by a Gas Safe Registered engineer.
Routine maintenance would normally involve regular periodic examination of the installation/appliance and remedial action taken where necessary in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations. If manufacturers’ recommendations are not available, professional advice should be sought.
Fuel oil storage
The Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) (England) Regulations 2001 cover the storage of oil at schools and other establishments.
All tanks, bunds and pipework should be regularly checked for signs of damage and it’s recommended that they are checked at least weekly, with a more detailed annual inspection and service by qualified inspectors to ensure that any potential defects are found and rectified.
There are security and environmental issues regarding oil storage areas and these areas should be as resistant as possible to unauthorised interference and vandalism.
If there are any permanent taps or valves where oil can be discharged from the tank to open areas, these should be fitted with a lock and should be locked shut when not in use. Where appropriate, notices should be displayed telling users to keep valves and trigger guns locked when they are not in use.
Pumps should be protected from unauthorised use, and taps and valves marked to show whether they are open or closed. Where these are not in use, they should be fitted with a blanking cap or plug.
Professional advice should be sought where schools have redundant oil storage tanks, particularly if the removal of redundant tanks is proposed, as there is a risk of fire or explosion.
Air conditioning systems (including heat pumps)
Under Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 an air conditioning system must be inspected by an energy assessor at regular intervals, not exceeding 5 years. In addition, an annual certificated inspection to ensure that there is no leakage of refrigerant is required under the Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2015. Bi-annual checks and an annual maintenance schedule should continue as best practice.
The risk of propagation of Legionnaires’ disease must also be recorded within a risk assessment and an appropriate scheme of inspection and maintenance implemented.
Systems or equipment which contain a liquid or gas under pressure can cause serious injury and damage to property if they are not properly maintained. The HSE’s Pressure systems: A brief guide to safety leaflet describes how to minimise the risks when working with pressure systems.
Legionella: checks and testing
Legionella bacteria can grow in hot and cold water systems and can be harmful to health if inhaled. Growth is more likely to occur where cold water temperatures are greater than 20°C, when hot water temperatures are less than 50°C or when water is permitted to stagnate due to pipe work dead legs or due to infrequent outlet usage. Legionnaires’ disease is normally only contracted where water is sprayed and small droplets (aerosols) of water containing the bacteria are inhaled – in a shower, for example. The duty holder (employer or person in control of the premises) is required to:
- identify and assess sources of risk in accordance with approved code of practice L8
- prepare a scheme (or course of action) for preventing or controlling the risk
- implement, manage and monitor the scheme
- keep records and check that what has been done is effective
- appoint a competent person to take day-to-day responsibility for controlling any identified risk, sometimes referred to as the ‘responsible person’. This person may be a member of school staff but they should have sufficient knowledge of the water system and sufficient authority to deal with the issues
- if appropriate, notify the local authority that there is a cooling tower on site
The risk assessment and preparation of the course of action should be undertaken by a company who offers these specialist services.
Evaporative cooling towers present significant additional risks. The location and nature of evaporative cooling towers must be registered with the local authority.
Find out more about legionella.
Building fabric: checks and testing
Find a summary of the checks and testing you should complete for:
School buildings may contain asbestos if any part of them was built before 2000. It is extremely important that any asbestos present in your school is managed properly. If managed correctly, asbestos poses very little risk to health. Equally, if it is not effectively managed, asbestos poses a significant health risk.
Further guidance for schools available in Asbestos management in schools.
It’s important that all available asbestos information is made available to building or maintenance contractors for their reference prior to working at the school, including:
- the asbestos register
- the asbestos management plan
The management survey may not be adequate. If it isn’t and the work will be invasive, it may be necessary to carry out a ‘demolition and refurbishment’ survey for asbestos under controlled conditions before planning the work. Those in charge of the work for the organisation should ensure that workers carrying out the work have been properly briefed about the asbestos status and the plans for dealing with it.
Further information is available from the HSE’s website on Asbestos Health and Safety in the Workplace.
Advice on selecting a competent asbestos surveyor can be found on the HSE website.
Glazing requirements are covered in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (WHSWR).
The duty to comply with the WHSWR will normally fall to the employer or those in control of the premises.
Under the WHSWR every window or other transparent or translucent surface in a wall, partition, door or gate should, where necessary for reasons of health and safety, be of a safety material or be protected against breakage and be appropriately marked.
Working at height and fall protection systems: checks and testing
Falls from height are one of the most frequent causes of serious accidents in the workplace and remain the single biggest cause of workplace deaths. HSE guidance provides key messages to help plan and organise work at height.
Working at height should be avoided wherever possible. Where it’s not possible, you should prevent a fall by working from an existing safe place or by using suitable equipment. If the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated you should reduce the distance and/or consequence of a fall.
Any equipment provided must be suitable, stable and sufficiently strong. It should be inspected prior to use and at suitable periods to ensure that it’s still in good condition. Scaffolding should only be erected and used by competent persons.
Those who are in control of any work at height should make sure that work is:
- properly planned
- appropriately supervised
- carried out by competent people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the task
You should give special consideration to situations where it may be possible to fall through a fragile roof material or surface (for example, a skylight) and take precautions to prevent such an accident. You should also take precautions to prevent anyone becoming injured by falling material or objects.
The Working at Height Regulations 2005 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) contains further provisions.
Safety and security systems: checks and testing
Find a summary of the checks and testing you should complete for :
- fire detection and alarm systems
- existing school estates
- new schools
- fire doors
- firefighting equipment
Fire detection and alarm systems
Information and guidance about fire safety in new and existing school buildings, including fire risk assessments, can be found in Fire Safety in new and existing school buildings.
Fire detection and alarm systems should have a weekly alarm test. In systems with multiple manual call points, a different one should be tested each week, so that all are eventually included in the schedule of testing over a period of time. The system should also be subject to quarterly and annual inspections and tests by a competent person.
All work on the fire alarm system, including routine testing, should be:
- accessible to the fire service
Ideally, zone diagrams should be available at the main control panel to enable the fire services to:
- determine the location of the incident
- devise the most appropriate methods of fighting the fire
Existing school estates
School premises, and the accommodation and facilities provided therein, must be maintained to a standard such that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of pupils are ensured.
For maintained schools this is covered by the Schools Premises Regulations 2012 – Regulation 6.
For academies, Part 4 of the Schedule to the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 applies.
Further advice is available on the standards for school premises.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 imposes duties on employers and persons with control of school premises. You must, amongst other things, have an appropriate and up-to-date fire risk assessment for all buildings under your control. This will include, amongst other things, ensuring procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of fire, maintaining fire detection and alarm systems, and familiarising staff and pupils with emergency evacuation procedures.
The interim report from the independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety recommends that fire risk assessments are reviewed annually for high-rise residential buildings. Building on this advice, schools of any height should consider reviewing their assessment on an annual basis, or on a regular reporting cycle of at least every 3 years.
However, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that you must ensure the fire risk assessment is reviewed and updated (where appropriate) regularly, and particularly where there is reason to suspect it’s no longer valid or where significant changes to the premises or use take place.
Those completing fire risk assessments, or providing advice in relation to them, should be appropriately qualified or experienced. The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council (FRACC) has issued advice on what to consider when appointing a ‘competent person’ to carry out the fire risk assessment.
New building work must comply with Building Regulations 2010 on fire safety. This can be achieved by following Building Regulation guidance Approved Document B, Fire Safety. The Department for Education has published Building Bulletin 100, Design for Fire Safety in Schools (BB100) to support school designers.
All fire doors and associated hardware must remain in efficient working order and should be regularly checked and maintained by a competent person. It is advisable to keep a record of any maintenance. The inspection of fire doors should include checks on the following:
- self-closing devices operate properly
- hold-open devices release when the fire alarm operates
- glazed panels are intact and undamaged
- warning signs are in place: ‘Automatic Fire Door – Keep Clear’ if the door has automatic release, or ‘Fire Door Keep Closed’ if manually operated
- doors open and close freely and are free from damage
- there is no distortion or warping of the door or frame
- intumescent (a substance that swells as a result of heat exposure, thus increasing in volume and decreasing in density) strips and smoke seals are in place and not damaged
- hinges and locks are properly lubricated
- fire doors are not propped open by staff or pupils
These should be maintained and inspected by a competent person at least once a year. This involves a visual inspection of the extinguisher and a check of the contents and stored pressure. A written record should be kept of the date of the last maintenance examination and this should usually be attached to the body of the extinguisher.
These should be inspected at least annually and replaced as required.
Hose reels are for the use of the fire service and staff should not normally be trained in the use of this equipment. All hose reels should be inspected on a yearly basis by a competent person. They must also be recorded in the risk assessment for Legionella and maintained accordingly.
Fixed systems are those which when activated by the warning/alarm system, release the extinguishing medium for example, sprinkler systems. All fixed systems should be inspected at least on an annual basis or to manufacturer’s guidelines. It is advisable to keep a record of any maintenance and testing.
Fire service facilities:
Facilities for the fire service may include:
- dry risers
- access for emergency vehicles
- emergency switches for installations
- information in respect of the premises and its contents
Where these facilities are provided they should be maintained and kept in good order. Maintenance and testing is required annually and varies dependent upon the height of the building.
Extract systems: checks and testing
These systems may be employed to maintain a safe environment by removing:
- hazardous fumes, as in the case of a laboratory fume cabinet or kitchen extract
- dusts and fumes, as in the case of technical workshops
Where such systems are installed they should be adequately maintained as advised by the supplier or installer.
Catering extract systems
Mechanical extraction is often used to remove cooking fumes and heat, and provide effective ventilation in kitchens. Build-up of fat etc. in filters and ducts will affect efficiency and increase the risk of fire. Planned maintenance should therefore include regular removal and cleaning of grease filters and accessing ductwork for cleaning.
Fume cupboards and exhaust ventilation from workshops
Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems (LEVs) should be examined and tested at least every 14 months.
Further information is available in Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) workplace fume and dust extraction.
Health and Safety: Guidance Booklets HSG 258: Controlling airborne contaminants at work. A guide to local exhaust ventilation (LEV) provides more detailed information on LEV systems and legal and competence requirements.
- Gas safety in catering and hospitality: HSE information sheet
- A simple guide to buying and using local exhaust ventilation (LEV): HSE information sheet
- Ventilation in catering kitchens: HSE information sheet
- Maintenance priorities in catering: HSE information sheet
Chemical storage: checks and testing
Chemicals need to be stored securely and an up-to-date inventory maintained. The handling and use of hazardous substances is governed by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 schools must ensure that the workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air.
Further guidance about the storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals in schools is available. For further information, please see the current departmental guidance health and safety in schools.
Other site management matters: checks and testing
Find a summary of the checks and testing you should complete for :
Hydrotherapy pools and swimming pools
It is the responsibility of swimming pool operators to:
- carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of their operations
- identify necessary control measures
This would have to take account of the whole user population of the swimming pool and the fact that a fatal incident can occur very quickly.
Public Health England has produced useful guidance on the Management of Spa Pools: controlling the risks of infection.
For swimming pools, see Managing health and safety in swimming pools (HSG179) and The control of Legionella bacteria in other risk systems.
Swimming and Hydrotherapy Pools should also be included in the risk assessment for Legionella.
Playground and gymnasium equipment
Equipment used for physical education often carries an enhanced need for regular inspection.
In respect of playground equipment, British Standard EN 1176 requires that an inspection should be carried out at regular intervals subject to its use, purpose and position.
For more information, the Association for Physical Education publishes useful guidance in respect of playground equipment.
Grounds maintenance is a maintenance responsibility for the school’s local authority or trust and includes the maintenance of any trees on the school site. As well as responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, an occupier of land where a tree stands has responsibilities under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 .
Schools in a radon affected area and those in a non-radon area that have a basement that is occupied for more than an average of one hour per week (52 hours/year) need to carry out measurements to determine potential radon levels in their premises, and may need to take action to restrict resulting exposures.
Further information can be found in the Radon in the work place: HSE guidance.