Health and safety: Getting the balance right

01 February 2017

01 February 2017 by MHA MacIntyre Hudson

Health and safety measures for colleges and other further education (FE) sector organisations has long been an area of contention amongst senior leadership teams. It is clear that every college should have a comprehensive health and safety policy, but what does this mean in practice, and how do we strike the right balance with safety management arrangements?

In November 2016, Plumpton College received a six-figure fine for breaching health and safety rules after a student’s knee was broken during a tree cutting lesson. The college had not carried out a specific risk assessment for the work and the tutors did not have the recognised industry qualification (NPCT) for specifically that kind of work. In these circumstances, it is not only the health and safety element that causes concern for colleges, but the wider financial and reputation implications that could have a longstanding impact on the college and its greater objectives.

Striking the right balance is easier said than done and will vary for each college depending on the curriculum offerings and their associated risks. Doing too little can pose severe consequences but doing too much can be overly restrictive and impractical for everyday operations. As such, colleges should look to adopt a basic, sensible management assessment to ensure they are on the right track.

When sensible health and safety management is implemented:

  • the college leadership team are aware of, and understand the safety policy and apply it practically to the real risks in the college
  • key staff have clearly established roles and responsibilities
  • paperwork is kept to a minimum with significant hazards identified, risks adequately controlled and precautions clearly documented where needed
  • college leadership teams consult with staff including employee/trade union safety representatives – looking for practical solutions to health and safety issues
  • learning is enabled by making proportionate decisions

There are many benefits of successful health and safety management. Outdoor learning activities help pupils to develop a greater understanding of a subject and help in developing risk awareness – to use the Plumpton College example, you can’t learn tree-cutting from reading a book inside a classroom!

All members of staff in a college have their own role in health and safety, but overall accountability lies with the governing body. Therefore it is imperative that governors play their part in establishing a risk strategy and the accompanying health and safety policy that is legally compliant, protects the college from penalties and reputational damage, and ultimately, promotes and secures the wellbeing of students and staff at the college.

Our internal audit team at MHA MacIntyre Hudson are well established and have performed a number of health and safety audits at a range of colleges and as such are well placed to identify best practice and uncover any potential health and safety gaps. We are well versed in the legal requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - the main statute for safeguarding people at work and general health and safety standards within the UK. 

Please get in touch if you would like to have an informal discussion with us to understand how we can assist.