Health & Safety Matters: Mobile Classrooms, Risk Assessments
The recent growth in the school population has meant that many schools have had to find new teaching areas to cope with increased student numbers. One solution to this has been the reintroduction of mobile classrooms - sorry, Temporary Modular Buildings.
While it is undoubtedly true that modern mobiles are much better constructed than their predecessors, there are inherent problems in their use, eg:
• Teachers (and students) may have to travel greater distances when they move class, leading to delays in starting lessons promptly and thus increasing stress.
• It may be more difficult to be properly prepared for lessons.
• There may be a need to carry materials and resources greater distances, causing increased risk of tripping and musculoskeletal problems.
• The isolation from the main building might make it more difficult to call for assistance should a problem arise.
• The fire alarm might be difficult to hear.
• Movement in bad weather may mean students and teachers become cold or wet.
• Security from intruders may be compromised.
• The temperature inside the rooms may be hard to control satisfactorily.
Teachers who have used mobiles for years will be used to these conditions and may take them for granted, but one of the reasons for rebuilding schools was to do away with these sorts of problems. There may be no other way of accommodating the growing number of students, but it's essential that they are used with care and consideration for the students and teachers who have to use them. A thorough risk assessment is needed for each mobile. If one has not been carried out, you should insist that it is before you work in it.
The mention of Risk Assessments probably has most people rolling their eyes. They're one of the things that give H&S a bad name, but they don't have to be complicated or overly bureaucratic. You do one every time you cross the road without realising it. An RA simply identifies what the possible hazards in a situation or activity might be, who might be at risk, what sort of injury might be caused and how serious it might be. Having done that, a decision needs to be taken about what, if any, action needs to be taken to prevent or reduce the effects of the danger. There are many examples of forms to record RAs but there isn't a requirement to use any particular one. There doesn't have to be a formal record at all if it's a simple everyday low-risk activity. You only need to make a formal record if the information needs to be passed on to someone else or if you need to be able to prove that you've done it.
Schools should carry out formal risk assessments for anything that might be a significant risk to an employee or student; Handling chemicals, fire, disruptive students and stress are obvious examples. It is not the job of a classroom teacher to carry out a formal risk assessment but as a teacher may be the person most aware of the hazards in a situation, it is probably in their own best interests for them to assist in the process. Risk Assessment should be a tool to make your job safer, not something to increase your workload.