Health & Safety Adviser - 2017 Annual Report
I'm pleased to report that, from what I hear from other H&S Advisers, the standard of H&S provision and care in Leicester schools is well above average. Before we all congratulate ourselves and start celebrating I would have to point out that the average is not very high.
Things could certainly be better. Schools in Leicester have become good at ticking the H&S boxes. They usually fulfil the requirements of the LCC H&S Audit and all H&S law but school management is rarely represented on the Education & Children's Services H&S committee so they are ignorant of, and seem to show little interest in, wider issues. School H&S committees that have teacher representation are a rare beast.
Employers have a duty to look after the welfare of their employees but unless teachers take an active role school management is unlikely to take as much care as it should. NUT members are very reluctant to take on the job of school H&S rep and unless someone does this it's very easy for schools to let things slip. Only an officially elected or appointed H&S rep has rights under H&S legislation so without a rep it becomes much more difficult to raise concerns about issues such as stress or asbestos.
The excellent training course for school NUT H&S Reps is now held over 5 days late in the summer term or alternatively split into two two-day sessions at the regional office in Birmingham.
As an employee of the Local Authority an H&S Adviser may exercise those rights on behalf of members in the school but if the adviser is not an employee this is not possible. Members in academies that do not have H&S reps are going to be in a particularly vulnerable position because not only do they no representation in school they do not have the LA monitoring H&S either. Whereas the LA H&S team can instruct a maintained school to take action on H&S issues they can only advise an academy and the academy is free to ignore them if it chooses.
There has been little recognition by anyone that making teachers work until they're older will have a deleterious effect on their health and performance in the classroom. Not only are schools failing to make allowance for this they are putting teachers on support programmes and into capability simply because they are no longer able to perform as they used to. As with any health issue it's no good waiting until problems occur. Action needs to be taken to prevent teachers becoming ill or simply wearing out.
I doubt that I've written an annual report without mentioning stress and the situation certainly isn't getting any better. Schools are more aware of stress now but few are doing much about it, probably because pressure from government and fear of Ofsted makes them feel unable to. This is incredibly short sighted because reducing stress in teachers would lengthen their working life, reduce ill health, save money and improve their performance. All things schools should see the benefit of.
The recently developed NUT electronic stress survey run through Survey Monkey is proving to be a useful tool. We are currently trialling it in a couple of schools and I would encourage school groups to use it, particularly if stress appears to be a problem in the school or if the school is not running it's own stress survey as it should.
After stress musculoskeletal problems are the second most common reason for absence due to ill health. Teaching is a very physical job although it may not seem to be at first glance. It involves a great deal of lifting and carrying, twisting and bending and frequently sitting on chairs that were designed for small children not adults. Prevention of problems starts with more care and education at the start of a teacher's career, not when they're older and the damage has begun.
It's also of great concern that there is increasing evidence that people are developing problems with both their physical and mental health at a young age so they may be having difficulties before they even start their careers.
I've been trying to raise awareness of these issues at the various H&S committees but this is a slow process as it requires a shift in established thought patterns. An additional problem with this is that school management is rarely represented on the committees.
NUT H&S advisers continue to meet for the annual H&S briefing in November and there are meetings for Midlands Region advisers three times a year including the annual conference that is also open to all reps and officers. This year it will be held in Birmingham on Friday 16th June. One issue that will be on the agenda is E-Safety. This is a growing concern nationally. Karl Hopwood will speak and it's usually worth going just to hear what he has to say.