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Compliance journeys: Achieving OHS standards in schools and education providers

9 Jul 2024

Gillian leaning on a glass handrail at the top of a staircase smiling

Gillian Wood

Associate - H&S and Risk Management

With media focus circling structural issues in education, another health and safety-focused matter, occupational health and safety (OHS), remains integral to the wellbeing, management and efficient operation of education providers of all shapes and sizes.

Having been appointed to Pagabo’s National Framework for Academy Services, our associate for health, safety and risk management, Gillian Wood, discusses how schools can maintain a healthy cap on OHS compliance, amid ever-present budgetary pressures.

Health and safety

Beyond physical safety

Last year, the Health and Safety Executive revealed that three million working days are lost annually in the education sector due to work-related illness (84%) and workplace injury (16%). It is a worrying statistic in a sector that typically must place safety and wellbeing at its highest levels for both students and staff, the latter being integral to delivering high-quality education to the next generation.

While the press has typically focused on structural integrity and design due to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) and cladding issues, the other side of the health and safety coin in education is guided by matters involving people at work, whether that be teaching staff or those managing educational facilities.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is the primary set of regulations here, governing requirements around both risk assessments and the requirement for a competent person to meet health and safety law. Most schools wouldn’t have this capability in-house, so will turn to consultants for their competent health and safety advice.

Typically, this would involve a discussion with the wide variety of stakeholders associated with the management of a school, or other educational environment, at a corporate level. Stakeholders can range from headteachers and governors, to property managers and facilities owners, each with their own unique viewpoints and areas of concern regarding health and safety. This picture can become further clouded when considering academies, which typically have multiple sites, making the consultant role ever more important as that ‘middle-ground’ to help achieve a uniform OHS culture across one or more locations.

The price is never right

Perhaps the biggest obstacle many educational providers face with OHS is cost. Following a substantial rise throughout the 2000s, total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8.5% in England between the academic years of 2009–10 and 2019–20. This can have a knock-on effect for leadership teams, which must make difficult decisions balancing budgets in a host of areas.

Health and safety spend would never be neglected here, but it does mean that a baseline level of ‘compliance’ is the driving factor for many providers, so we need to consider creative ways to shift and elevate safety culture in education that doesn’t cost the earth.

It is why we offer a free discovery call to aid stakeholder’s journeys. Our job is to understand the complex interplay at a governor, leadership, parent and pupil level, set boundaries and targets, and achieve a level of uniformity within organisational OHS.

While OHS is by no means one of the biggest payouts schools face when examining budgets, the cost of getting it wrong is exponential in scale. An injury to a child while under a school’s care is severe (even more so if caused through negligence), but the organisational reputation hit is even costlier, and could have long-lasting ramifications that negatively impact the whole school’s future.

Some of the services we can undertake range from legislative compliance such as health and safety compliance audits and fire risk assessment, to training leadership and facilities management teams, as well as more guidance-based approaches to stress management and wellbeing, making change at both a structural and OHS culture level. Within this, we take a four-step approach to school’s OHS mission, from discovery right through to a tailored plan that is unique to an organisation’s DNA blueprint and structure, always with budget in mind but ensuring safe systems and legal compliance is at the forefront.

These types of processes are incredibly helpful for education providers, breaking down individual areas of OHS management into bitesize pieces, placing collaboration and communication at the forefront of our initiatives. For academies, guidance around health and safety can also be found within the Academy Trust Handbook, which sets out abiding principles as part of their terms of operation.

At Pick Everard, we are proud to work with a range of education providers on projects, including academy Brooke Weston Trust, where health and safety is just one aspect of a much wider design journey that can be enhanced with effective stakeholder management.

Leading OHS discovery

OHS discovery can also be an integral journey for SEND schools, which have much more unique risk requirements due to the circumstances in which they operate. Perceived ‘risk’ may be much more difficult to identify for SEND pupils, where everyday objects and items of equipment can easily be misinterpreted in use. Here, within environments of heightened risk, it is vital a tailored discussion is in place with organisations like us to remediate stakeholder concerns.

Health and safety within education providers should always be at the forefront of stakeholder’s minds, but within a volatile environment such as education, it is important to remember that compliance cannot be achieved in isolation. It takes industry experts as well as stakeholders at all levels to collaborate to achieve a safer and more productive future for all.

To read more on our safety and wellbeing insights, head to our dedicated page. To learn more about working at Pick Everard, head to:

Gillian leaning on a glass handrail at the top of a staircase smiling

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