These FAQs help illustrate the nature of some of the issues that HSE routinely gives advice on. The list is not exhaustive and further questions and answers may be added at a latter date.
The key legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The Act requires employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and non-employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. The Act also places duties on individuals to take care for the health and safety of themselves and others.
The Act is supplemented by regulations which make the general requirements more explicit.
Key regulations include:
Some educational visits in Great Britain will be to premises licensed under the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004. In broad terms, HSE is the enforcing authority for sites run by educational providers, including all centres run by local authorities (LAs). Many LAs have their own centres, although these may be some distance from the LA itself. LAs will be the enforcing authority for the remaining providers, including commercial providers such as multi-activity holiday centres.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places overall responsibility for health and safety with the employer. In many cases, the employer will be the local authority; in other cases, it will be the governing body or proprietor of the school. The employer has the overall legal responsibility and accountability for the health, safety and welfare for the school staff, and for the health and safety of pupils, visitors and volunteers.
Health and safety functions (but not accountability) can be delegated to members of staff within the school to fulfil health and safety responsibilities on behalf of the employer.
Teachers organising and taking part in school visits off-site accept responsibility for the care and welfare of pupils, and they act in loco parentis. They will also have duties as employees and/or managers under health and safety at work legislation.
The duties in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the regulations made under it apply to activities taking place on or off school premises (including school visits) in Great Britain.
Any incident occurring overseas is outside HSE's jurisdiction and HSE will not investigate or take action in relation to the actual circumstances of the incident itself. Whether criminal charges should arise from such incidents would be a matter for the relevant national authorities to consider and pursue. Some countries may allow parents and other parties to institute civil actions or private prosecutions following death or injury.
HSE can, however, consider any circumstances relating to activities carried out in Great Britain to support a particular visit which may reveal systemic failings in the management of school trips. This could include general management arrangements, ie risk assessments for the activities, training and competence of staff, co-operation and co-ordination with other parties.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to any provider activity taking place in Great Britain. If a school is considering using one of these organisations then the school or local authority needs to apply some basic health and safety measures in judging the provider’s suitability. It is crucial that you check their risk assessment and control measures for the proposed activity. If these do not demonstrate competent and effective planning and organisation, then the school would be unwise to consider using the provider.
Employers must be satisfied that their teachers and staff are competent to lead or supervise a visit. It is a legal requirement that leaders are competent for the activities they are leading. On adventurous activities, leaders with specialist skills and qualifications will be needed for the activity elements of the trip. Teachers will generally be in charge at other times.
Low-risk activities are those that typically involve everyday risks, such as slips and trips. These should be differentiated from the much greater risks associated with outdoor adventurous activities such as caving, canoeing, rock-climbing etc.
No. The aim of the assessment process is to identify the real risks, assess them and record the significant findings. There is no need to assess every aspect of every school trip. Assessments for trivial and fanciful risks are not required. Proportionate systems should be in place, so that trips that present lower risk are quick and easy to organise. Higher-risk activities should be properly planned and assessed.
The main duties are on the employer, not teachers or head teachers.
Teachers will only become personally liable if they ignore clear, direct, instructions about serious risks and depart from all common sense. Teachers who try to act responsibly will be on the right side of the law.
The term adventure activity is broadly defined in the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004, as caving, climbing, trekking or water sports. Providers offering and charging for these types of activities to those under 18 must be licensed. Adventure activities abroad do not have to be licensed.
Pupil to staff ratios for school trips are not prescribed in law. Those planning trips, on the basis of risk assessment, should decide the ratios, taking into account the activity to be undertaken and the age and maturity of the pupils.
Levels of supervision should be determined by school risk assessment for the trip. There should be clear boundaries and clear lines of communication. Remote supervision is considered by DfE to be part of the development programme; it should be phased in gradually because it is important for children to learn to be independent.
The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom runs an accreditation scheme for providers. The LOtC Quality Badge recognises providers who offer good-quality learning outside the classroom and manage risk effectively. As part of this process, the Council is working to reduce bureaucracy in schools, while maintaining safety and quality in learning.
The Quality Badge scheme is voluntary and schools are free to use any unbadged provider.
The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify sensible ways of managing risks - if those risks are already understood and well managed then a new assessment would add no extra value.
Those responsible for organising and leading school visits to farms should read HSE Information sheet (AIS23) ‘Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions’, and the associated supplement ‘Advice to teachers and others who organise visits for children'. This provides guidance on what to do before, during and after visits to minimise the risk of children catching diseases from animals.
While accidents are rare, they do happen. Employers should have a procedure in place. They should also comply with the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995.
No - health and safety legislation should not be used as a reason to prevent participation in school sports.
HSE has published a high level statement on children’s play and leisure. That statement makes clear that mistaken health and safety concerns should not prevent children from expanding their learning and stretching their abilities. These messages apply equally to school sports and physical education.
Health and safety legislation does require schools to manage the risk from sports activities sensibly but this does not have to be difficult. In most cases this will involve making sure that equipment is suitable for the pupils involved, that grounds are properly maintained and the right level of supervision for pupils is in place. Managing the risks sensibly means that the schools and relevant teaching staff keep up to date with guidance and standards applicable to the sports that are taught. Many of the National Governing Bodies provide guidance to help schools introduce pupils to their sports, and to help them develop skills progressively and safely. Guidance on safe practice in physical education and sport is also available for member schools from the Association for Physical Education (AfPE).
Even when school sport is well managed, the physical challenge and competitive nature of some sports may occasionally lead to injuries. In the event that a pupil playing sport is seriously injured because the risks were not well managed, the accident may be reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR). Guidance is available in HSE’s Education Information Sheet 1.
Does health and safety legislation prevent pupils from undertaking ‘hands on’ science experiments?
In 2011 the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology reported that practical school science inside and outside the classroom was essential. They found no evidence that health and safety legislation itself prevents this from happening – rather it was the prevalence of myths and the fear of being sued should something go wrong. The full report is available from the Commons Select Committee webpages.
HSE encourages schools to allow children to experience risk in a managed environment and does not advocate stopping pupils from participating in exciting science experiments, where they can learn first hand the principles of science and develop an appreciation of the hazards and risks. Sensible health and safety means focusing on managing the real risks and going ahead with activities – and it is not about generating mountains of paperwork either.
School science trips also have clear benefits for pupils, and large numbers of successful visits and outdoor learning activities take place each year. HSE has published a statement to tackle the myths and bureaucracy that surround school trips.
CLEAPSS (Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services) provides a wealth of guidance for member schools and authorities in England and Wales http://www.cleapss.org.uk/. A similar service is provided for schools in Scotland by SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre) http://www.sserc.org.uk/
A useful British Standard provides safety guidelines for design and technology workshops. BS 4163:2007 Health and safety for design and technology in schools and similar establishments - Code of practice, provides guidance for people responsible for design and technology facilities in schools and similar establishments. The recommendations cover safe use of equipment, machine tools, materials and chemicals, and personal protective equipment. Standards can be purchased from the BSI online shop.
The legal responsibility and thus accountability for health and safety lies with the employer. This will depend on the category of school. In England the Local Authority is the employer in:
The Governing Body is the employer in:
The proprietor is the employer in independent schools.
Although overall accountability lies with the school employer, other senior school managers involved in the day to day running of the school also have responsibility for the health and safety of staff and pupils.
the majority of schools are state owned and operated by local authorities. The local authority is the employer;
There are a few grant aided schools, which are independent of local authorities, but which are supported financially by the Scottish Government. The Governing Body, or equivalent, is the employer.
For independent schools, the proprietor, Board of Trustees or equivalent, is the employer.
In England LA education funding schemes set out conditions with which governing bodies must comply in managing the expenditure of the funds delegated to them. LAs have been advised to include provisions designed to ensure that they have sufficient power to ensure that the work necessary for compliance with health and safety legislation is carried out. The schemes should require governing bodies to:
The schemes should also include a provision to enable LAs to charge schools for:
English and Welsh LAs can also retain money for strategic management of health and safety. This includes funding required for setting policies and standards, providing competence at a strategic level, carrying out active and reactive monitoring, and giving advice to schools. This is authorised by the School Finance (England) Regulations 2008 as amended (Schedule 1) and the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010 (Schedule 1).
In Scotland, local authorities have responsibility for the management of devolved budgets and determine to what extent budgets are further devolved to schools. This includes responsibility for health and safety.
The employer in Voluntary Controlled schools is the LA who therefore has overall responsibility for health and safety compliance.. Responsibility cannot be devolved. The LA must provide oversight and monitoring.
A Voluntary Controlled school is usually a religious or faith school, where the land and buildings are owned by a charity (often religious) but the local education authority funds the school, runs it, and employs the staff.
In Voluntary Aided Schools the governing body is the employer and so is responsible for health and safety. There is no legal requirement for Voluntary Aided Schools to adopt the LA's policies and procedures. Some LAs may make their services and recommendations available to Voluntary Aided Schools for which they make a charge.
A Voluntary Aided school is usually a religious or faith school, where the land and buildings are owned by a charity (often religious) but the governing body runs the school and employs the staff, and the school is jointly funded by the local education authority, the governing body and the charity.
Schools need to assess the risk from vehicle movements on their premises and manage those risks in line with current workplace transport guidance e.g. segregation, marking and lighting.
Schools should consider in their risk assessment vehicle movements occurring immediately outside the school premises which may be associated with school activities, such as staff arriving and leaving work, school buses delivering pupils, delivery vehicles.
Further information on managing risks from workplace transport can be obtained from HSE site safety website.
HSE should only be involved in investigating a road traffic incident where police demonstrate that serious management failures have been a significant contributory factor.
It is a matter for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), who award the licences for bus routes, to comment on whether bus companies are operating a safe system of work, as it is here that the knowledge and expertise on matters relating to passenger transport rest.
There is no specific health and safety legislation limiting the weight that children in school can carry.
Section 3 of the Health and safety at Work etc Act 1974 imposes some duties on employers and the self-employed towards persons other than their employees such as school children. These are amplified by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which require an assessment of the risks arising from work activities which affect the health and safety of those not in their employment. Although section 3 may apply, other non-HSE legislation concerning the welfare of school children takes precedence.