My favourite thing about health and safety management in schools – if you’re going to make me pick just one thing – is that it’s a never-ending journey of discovery. Just when we think we’ve covered every possible hazardous eventuality, a school will alert us to another one we hadn’t thought of.
Take last week, for instance. Up until we received the question, I had not given a single thought to how many benches one is legally allowed to stack in a school. Before starting this job, I’d never pondered the threat of an egg box, nor had I heard of a chafer grub. It’s a wonder I ever made it this far, so ignorant was I to the unruly jungle of hazards out there.
Fortunately for school staff and pupils everywhere, I’m only responsible for my own safety most days, and defending oneself from the odd chafer grub isn’t too difficult. Having a duty of care to hundreds, or even thousands of children at a time is a completely different task, and I do not envy the school leaders who take that on.
I do, however, enjoy helping them out with some of the stranger health and safety issues that pop up in schools. Here are just a few of them.
Nasty creatures, gulls. They like to loiter around school sites in droves, most likely drawn by the sheer pleasure of tormenting small children.
Through some backhanded means – probably involving bribery and henchmen – they’ve managed to get themselves protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so resisting their campaign of terror with mortal combat is not an option.
An alternative solution mentioned in our article (log-in required) is to call in a company that uses birds of prey to intimidate gulls off the premises. History teachers could make a nice learning opportunity out of it by inviting a class to watch and drawing comparisons with the Battle of Britain.
2. Plug socket covers
Having been raised in a world where every known plug socket contained a little plastic ‘safety’ cover, I was less than pleased to learn that they are not the friendly, anti-electrocution device my nan thought.
In fact, they compromise the built-in safety mechanism in every 13-amp British standard (BS) 1363:1947 plug socket. This means that they are potentially rather dangerous and are not recommended for use in EYFS settings or anywhere else.
To get all statistical for a moment, you’re more likely to be harmed by a plug socket cover than a shark.* And you wouldn’t fill your classroom with sharks, now, would you?
*Within a classroom. Probably.
3. Creepy crawlies
Would you believe that not one of the statutory documents published by the Department for Education (DfE) mentions insects? You won’t find so much as a passing reference to a false widow spider, or a chafer grub, or indeed any other kind of grub that may be found on a school site. We know this, because we looked.
I myself am pleased to be living in a place where the risks presented by our native creepy crawlies is so low that we don’t need any official health and safety guidance on them. If a bug infestation is causing you problems, however, the advice in our article suggests various solutions including:
- Contact a pest control organisation
- Use a pesticide
- Leave them to live their tiny bug lives in peace
- Squish them
- Fight bugs with bugs – let a batch of roundworms loose on a chafer grub infestation and they’ll quickly destroy the lot
That last one was suggested by the Royal Horticultural Society. And to think I always had them down as pacifists…
Conkers have been receiving bad press since playgrounds began and remain steeped in health and safety myth even in 2016. One hears tales of pupils donning full battle armour before engaging in conker games. I once read a school policy that refers to them only as The Nut that Must Not be Named.
Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been trying its utmost to restore sanity and assure us that the risk from playing conkers is so low that it is “just not worth bothering about”.
In fact, the HSE has made several wise comments about health and safety in schools. Health and safety management shouldn’t be a huge burden, and the HSE has written guidance to help schools make sure that they are striking the right balance when tackling risks. In general, this will involve putting sensible and proportionate measures in place to manage real risks, in a way that does not stop pupils from experiencing learning opportunities to the full.
This is backed up by the DfE, which urges schools to use common sense when assessing and managing risks. Ofsted, meanwhile, is only interested in whether pupils are safe and feel safe in school, and doesn’t have any specific criteria for evaluating health and safety (members can read more about that here).
So please do not let health and safety management dominate the already too-long list of things you have to worry about as a school leader – but do remember that we are here to support you whenever the next peculiarity rears its hazardous head.