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Knowledge Share: School Health and Safety

Mar 30, 2022

Our New Knowledge Share Series

This is the first blog in our ‘Knowledge Share’ series. Our Knowledge Share articles are designed to empower key industry professionals to better understand their health and safety duties.

This introductory blog is the first in this series and looks at three particularly key safety risks in schools: asbestos, legionella and fire. These risks fall to school business managers to coordinate and manage.

School Business Managers: the beating heart of school safety
At JCH Safety we find that many of our clients have health and safety as one of their key responsibilities, but they may not have had much specialised training in this area. This can place educational leaders, such as school business managers, in a compromised position. JCH Safety works with numerous schools and businesses, and we want to share our knowledge and experience with school business managers.

We appreciate how hard school business managers work and how much is asked of these professionals to keep schools running safely and smoothly. School business managers are often tasked with everything from finance to HR, from health and safety to property repairs and maintenance. It is a massive job.

Schools often have many hundreds and sometimes thousands of students and staff and it falls to the business managers to keep everyone safe. This is a huge responsibility that keeps some business managers awake at night. We find from talking with business managers that they often know that they have shortcomings in safety within their schools. This can be due to time and financial constraints but also, sometimes, due to a lack of knowledge of what they should be doing to correctly manage safety. Sometimes, schools have to make a decision between employing teachers and keeping their buildings safe. If you haven’t been properly trained in health and safety legislation, and made aware of the risks, this could place you in a very difficult position.

What you need to do:
JCH Safety always advises that schools should have access to competent health and safety advice. This is stipulated by law. This should come from someone that is committed to your school, your organisation and to supporting you as an individual. It shouldn’t be from a massive organisation that does not nurture personal relationships. Safety is critical and so outsourced advice should come from consultancies who always provide the personal touch. JCH Safety provides unique, tailored health and safety services to schools and businesses across the midlands. If you want to get in touch to find our more, we would love to hear from you. All our advice is provided by the author of this blog, Jonathan Hegarty. It is my intention to continue to build and nurture trusting relationships with my clients. Having been in business since 2014 we now have a strong client base of schools, colleges and businesses across Coventry, Birmingham and the West Midlands.

School Business Manager’s Safety Responsibilities:
School business managers are often tasked with the management of risk at school. This includes ensuring the property itself is safe, minimising trip hazards and making sure that the paths are gritted in the winter. To some business managers this may be the extent of their knowledge of what managing safety means in a school. Health and safety is vasty more complicated than this and a schools business managers’ duty here is much more extensive.

For starters, health and safety does involve what is commonly referred to as ‘housekeeping.’ This means ensuring the building is kept in good condition, clean and tidy. It means making sure electrical cables are not prevalent as trip hazards and that sharp objects are kept locked away. Health and safety goes much further though. It involves managing some potentially serious risks that require specialist knowledge and understanding. As part of our knowledge sharing, we want to provide some information about some of the more complex risks that school business managers are tasked with managing.

Much of Britain’s school stock is aging. Many buildings have asbestos lurking within their fabric. This can include within the floor tiles, around window frames, above suspended ceilings and within walls, to mention just a few possible locations where asbestos might be present. It can be disturbed during refurbishment works, when hanging shelves or when buildings deteriorate. Asbestos has the potential to cause severe long-term illness and potentially death due to exposure to it. The more people subjected to asbestos, the greater the risk of more people becoming ill due to it. As a result, asbestos management is highly important in schools.

If your building contains asbestos, as the school business manager, the responsibility for managing this risk falls to you. What does this mean? It means ensuring that you have all the relevant documentation, processes and training in place to manage this risk. It is important to have an up-to-date asbestos survey in place. This is a detailed professional assessment of your building with samples taken, to determine where asbestos is. With this knowledge, it then falls to you to manage the asbestos within your property. This might involve having some of it removed, having it encapsulated or simply monitoring its condition to such a time where it deteriorates and has to be removed. Within this, it is then important to manage the risk further. Site officers and caretakers need training about the asbestos. This includes asbestos awareness training (link to the asbestos awareness training course please) but also making sure they understand where asbestos is within the building. It is vital that you as the business manager, know where the asbestos is located so that this information can be provided to contractors that you might have working on your site. Builders, heating engineers and floor layers all need to know where asbestos is if you are having works carried out. Asbestos Regulations and CDM Regulations all provide duties on schools to manage asbestos risks. There is a lot to know about asbestos risk in schools and you must have access to competent safety advice to do this.


Legionella is another serious risk within schools that school business managers need to manager. It can be a nasty illness that has the potential to kill and so it is very serious. There are regulations in place that mean a school must manage the risk of exposure to legionella. Both the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulation (1994) place duties on employers to manage legionella risk. If a school fails to comply with the HSE ACoP L8 The Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems, may be prosecuted under either of these regulations. As a result, there are both moral and legal duties to ensure that legionella risk is managed in your school. That is to prevent illness caused by the disease and to mitigate the risk of prosecution. If you have not received training in this area, as a school business manager, you must ensure that you have access to competent health and safety management advise to help you navigate this risk.
Schools have a duty of care, as prescribed by the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect their employees and anyone visiting their school from risks within their sites. This goes without saying, includes children. Therefore, it is the school’s responsibility to make sure that their water systems are protected from legionella.

Legionella bacteria lives within water systems. There is a risk of infections when people breath in aerosols from a contaminated source such as from taps connected to pipework or from air conditioning systems. It could be as simple as inhaling aerosols given off when a tap is turned on or from school showers. As a result, in a school, legionella is a very real risk.

Symptoms vary and include tiredness, dry cough, fever to headaches, confusion and diarrhoea. As with asbestos, the more people exposed to legionella the greater the risk of resulting illness. It can be fatal.

Again, as schools are often older buildings, with aging water systems, can mean that the risk of legionella within a school can be significant. It is important as a school business manager, that you understand how to manage all of these risks. It involves making sure that air conditioning is serviced and that building water systems are correctly maintained. It also includes ensuring that only correctly qualified plumbers work on a schools water system, to ensure chlorination processes are correctly carried out after upgrades.

Managing the risks associated with legionella falls to school business managers. To do this you must ensure that you have an up-to-date legionella risk assessment carried out by a competent person. You must have regular water hygiene tests carried out and you must ensure that your site team are trained in the risks associated with legionella.

Health and safety is life critical. Even in low-risk environments, shortcomings in health and safety can result in life changing events or even death. This is not an over exaggeration.

Fire Risk:
Fire is one of the biggest risks facing schools. School fires are commonplace and are often associated with electrical issues and arson. As a result, it is important to protect your school population from the risk of fire.

Preventing fires starts with fire risk assessments. It is a legal duty to have an up-to-date fire risk assessment in place carried out by a competent person. This is someone qualified and experienced in fire safety who understands the risks schools face. As an experienced school fire risk assessor, myself, I am only too aware of the specific fire risks schools face. Schools have specific risks from technology departments, science labs and from the complex environments that schools are. Schools often have large kitchen facilities, complex electrical installations and some serious plant equipment. On top of this they occupy large sites, often in less affluent areas which may have high incidences of crime, drug and alcohol abuse issues. All of these matters can increase the potential risk of fire.

School business managers need to be confident that they have suitable fire detection in place, that their gas and electrical installations are properly serviced and safe and that appropriate fire and emergency planning has taken place. Staff should be trained in basic fire awareness (link to https://jchsafety.co.uk/basic-fire-safety-awareness/) to ensure they understand how to keep a school environment safe from the risk of fire. School business managers must also appoint Fire Marshals (sometimes called fire wardens). They are responsible for managing evacuations and for sweeping the building to ensure everyone is out and for accounted for. Fire marshals must be properly trained. JCH Safety provides Fire Marshal Training both in person and via our online training platform.

School business managers must also ensure that fire safety equipment and facilities are properly managed. This means keeping fire doors in good working order, arranging for fire alarm and emergency lighting servicing and for testing other fire critical equipment.

School business managers’ have a lot to do when it comes to managing fire safety risk within schools.

We hope that you have found the above information to be helpful and thought provoking. JCH Safety are always happy to hear from people so if you have any questions you need help with, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
JCH Safety are a small independent fire risk assessment and chartered safety consultancy based in Nuneaton in Warwickshire. We work across the midlands helping clients to manage safety and fire risk. Please feel free to get in touch to find out more.