Health & Safety Matters: New Year - Same Old Problems!
The start of a new year is the ideal time to think about Health and Safety in your school and to head off problems before they occur. Key to this must be having a properly elected or appointed union H&S representative who can be trained to look for hazards and know what to do to resolve them. Another reason for having H&S reps is that they have the legal right to insist that a school has an H&S Committee with union representatives on it. This makes raising issues with the school management very much easier.
We all know what some of the problems might be. If there were problems with keeping the school at the right temperature last year, has something been done about it or will the same thing happen again? It's no good waiting until December and then complaining that the building is freezing! Is the lighting round the outside areas adequate when you leave after late meetings? Do the paths get gritted properly when it's icy? Each school has its own particular quirks. Try to make sure that they don't make your job more difficult than it need be.
The Grenfell fire tragedy brought attention to all things related to fire safety. Astonishingly most of the new school buildings in Leicester did not have sprinkler systems fitted despite this adding only a tiny amount to the cost. No lives have ever been lost in the UK because of a fire in a building with a sprinkler system. Only recently a major fire was prevented in a Nottingham school because the sprinkler system stopped it before it could get properly started. Leicester NUT has asked the Local Authority to look into installing sprinkler systems retrospectively. You can help by raising the issue with your local councillor or your MP
A recent survey found that very few teachers in England knew if their school contained asbestos, and if so where it was, yet 90% of schools do contain asbestos. Most of the asbestos in Leicester schools has been removed, and what remains is usually well managed, but there is still a risk. Ask if there is any in your school and make sure you know where it is. If you are not satisfied with the answers you get, contact the union office as a matter of urgency.
Many schools will be carrying out stress surveys at this time of year. This is not good practice because it's pretty obvious that stress is likely to be at it's lowest just now. If your school is doing a stress survey you could point this out to them. If a survey has not been carried out during the previous 12 months the school should be challenged about this. They have a legal duty to manage stress and without having a survey to monitor the situation they can't discharge this duty properly. Teachers need to play their part by engaging with the process and taking it seriously. It's easy to understand why some have a jaundiced view about schools only paying lip service to stress management, but it's our opportunity to raise concerns. A stress survey should always be anonymous.