Health and safety legislation

Two of the most important pieces of health and safety legislation affecting educational establishments across the UK are the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These set the standards that must be met to ensure the health and safety of all employees and others who may be affected by any work activity. Other regulations also exist to cover work activities that carry specific risks, for example lifting and carrying, computer work and electricity.

A summary of the key pieces of legislation affecting education establishments is provided in this section:

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
Standards for school premises
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012 
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007
The Equality Act 2010
The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Although these are the main pieces of legislation affecting health and safety in schools and colleges, other legislation may also be applicable. Where in doubt, further advice should be sought from ATL.

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974

The main piece of legislation affecting the management of health and safety in educational establishments across all sectors is the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA). This Act provides a framework for ensuring the health and safety of all employees in any work activity. It also provides for the health and safety of anyone who may be affected by work activities in eg pupils/students and visitors to educational sites, including parents and contractors.

In Northern Ireland, similar provisions are made by the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978.

Employers and employees (as well as manufacturers, suppliers and the self-employed) must comply with the duties set out in the Act, which are summarised as follows.

  • Section 2 places a duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees as far as is reasonably practicable. It also requires employers to consult with trade union safety representatives on matters affecting health and safety in the workplace. Moreover, employers of more than five people must prepare a written health and safety policy and bring it to the attention of employees.
  • Section 3 requires employers to ensure that non-employees (eg pupils/students) who may be affected by work activities are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Where young or vulnerable persons may be affected, the duty of care is greater.
  • Section 4 places a duty on anyone responsible for the workplace to ensure that the premises, plant and machinery do not endanger the people using them.
  • Section 5 requires employers to prevent and control harmful, noxious or offensive emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Section 6 places duties on designers, manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that articles and substances are safe for use.
  • Section 7 states that it is the duty of every employee while at work to take reasonable care of him or herself and of any other person who may be affected by his or her actions. This section also requires employees to cooperate with their employer in relation to health and safety issues.
  • Section 8 requires employees not to interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interest of health and safety.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The main requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations is that employers must carry out risk assessments to eliminate or reduce risks. Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of a risk assessment. In addition, employers also need to:

  • make arrangements for implementing the health and safety measures identified as necessary by risk assessments
  • monitor and review those arrangements
  • appoint people with sufficient knowledge, skills, experience and training to help them to implement these arrangements
  • set up emergency procedures and provide information about them to employees
  • provide clear information, supervision and training for employees and ensure that suitably competent people are appointed who are capable of carrying out the tasks entrusted to them
  • work together with any other employer(s) operating from the same workplace, sharing information on the risks that other staff may be exposed to, eg cleaning, catering or maintenance contractors
  • take particular account of risks to new and expectant mothers.

See our section on risk assessment for more detailed information.

The Workplace, (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

These regulations deal with physical conditions in the workplace and require employers to meet minimum standards in relation to a wide range of matters, which include:

  • maintenance of buildings and equipment
  • lighting
  • provision of drinking water
  • temperature
  • rest facilities (including that for pregnant women and nursing mothers)
  • ventilation
  • toilet facilities
  • room dimensions and space
  • cleanliness
  • condition of floors and traffic routes.

Standards for school premises

While the Workplace Regulations apply to all workplaces throughout the United Kingdom, there are several pieces of legislation and guidance which operate in conjunction with them and apply specifically to schools. In some cases, their provisions cover areas not covered in the Workplace Regulations and also offer more beneficial standards.

For more detailed information on these standards, please see the sections on the standards for education premises, space, temperature and workplace inspections.

The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 apply to maintained schools in Wales. They cover such issues as temperature, toilet facilities for pupils, ventilation and lighting. Some of the standards must also be met by independent schools, free schools and academies

The Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003 lay down further minimum standards for schools which provide boarding accommodation.

The School Premises (England) Regulations 2012 apply to all maintained schools in England, and became effective in October 2012. They are a weaker version of the School Premises Regulations which apply in Wales. They contain less regulation and allow the employer more flexibility as to how they use their premises.

The regulations do not apply to academies, free schools and independent schools. In 2013, it is expected that the Independent School Standards (England) Regulations will be amended so that the same standards apply to maintained schools and independent schools, including academies and free schools.

The School Premises (General Requirements and Standards)(Scotland) Regulations 1967 set out minimum standards for schools sites, playing fields and educational accommodation in the country. They also prescribe standards for kitchen premises, toilet and washing facilities and staff accommodation.

The accommodation standards for independent schools are not set down in legislation in Scotland but are based on established practices and procedures laid down by Ofsted inspectors. However, the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 requires the proprietors and managers of independent schools that offer boarding and living accommodation to meet certain standards in relation to sanitary conveniences, heating lighting and ventilation.

The School Building Handbooks (Nursery, Primary and Secondary) are used in Northern Ireland, to provide advice and guidance on the planning and design of new school buildings and the standard to which they should conform. As well as dealing with the school site they deal with the school building and give standards for staff and pupil toilets, lighting, acoustics and temperature.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992

These regulations require employers to minimise the health risks associated with manual handling, a term used to describe activities which involve lifting, carrying, moving, holding, pushing, lowering, pulling or restraining an object, person or animal.

Employers should:

  • avoid the need to lift, carry, push, pull, lower or support loads wherever possible
  • mechanise tasks where they cannot be avoided by the use of trolleys, barrows, lifts or hoists
  • carry out risk assessments, which take into account the work task, the activity involved, individual capacity, working environment and other factors.

Information, instruction and training should be provided. ATL members are advised that they should not be required to lift or carry heavy or awkward objects. Members are generally not trained to carry out such tasks; nor is it a condition of employment. See our section on lifting and carrying for more detailed information.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations place specific duties on employers, owners and those in control of buildings to manage the risks from asbestos fibres that may be released when building or maintenance work takes place.

The regulations require the following steps to be taken to manage the risk:

  • find out if there is asbestos on the premises, its amount and what condition it is in
  • presume materials contain asbestos, unless there is evidence that they do not
  • make and keep up to date a record of the location and condition of the materials containing asbestos or which are presumed to contain asbestos
  • carry out a risk assessment on materials containing asbestos
  • prepare and implement a plan that sets out in detail how the risk from this material is going to be managed
  • review and monitor the plan and the arrangements
  • provide information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it (including staff).

Specialist help is generally required to determine the presence of materials containing asbestos and to remove asbestos. ATL supports the phased removal of asbestos from all schools with priority being given to those schools where asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged. For more, see our section on asbestos.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

These regulations oblige employers to assess the workstations of staff who use display screen equipment (DSE). The workstation is the equipment itself, its accessories and the surrounding work environment. The minimum requirements of employers are to:

  • identify "users" of display screen equipment, ie those who habitually use DSE as a significant part of their normal work
  • assess workstations to ensure that they meet minimum standards
  • provide information, instruction and training on the potential hazards of using DSE equipment
  • offer free eyesight tests to users of DSE equipment at regular intervals and to pay for spectacles that are required for the work
  • review assessments.

For more information, see our section on working with computers.

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

These place a duty on employers to assess all foreseeable risks associated with work activities involving electricity. Employers are required to install safe systems of working, with well-maintained equipment, covering everything from power lines to kettles. All installation and repairs should be undertaken by a qualified electrician or those who have appropriate technical knowledge, though some minor repairs, inspections, fitting of plugs, etc may be undertaken by suitably trained staff.

For more information, including the requirements on portables appliance testing, see our section on electrical safety.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

Under these regulations (often referred to as RIDDOR), certain work-related accidents are reportable by law to the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority (for school and college based staff, the HSE is the appropriate enforcing authority). The following must be reported:

  • death of any person
  • a 'major injury' to any person at work
  • hospital treatment of any person who is not at work (eg pupil/student)
  • an accident which results in a person at work being incapacitated for more than seven consecutive days. This excludes the day of the accident but includes weekends and rest days. The report of the injury must be made within 15 days of the accident occuring
  • specified dangerous occurrences, eg building collapse
  • specified work-related diseases, eg mesothelioma and hepatitis.

Educational establishments should have clear guidelines on incident reporting and this should be conveyed to staff on the first day of their employment.

For more information about the reporting and investigation of accidents, including how to report, see our section on accident reporting.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

These regulations (often known as the COSHH regulations) require employers to assess and prevent (or at least adequately control) the risks to health from the use of any hazardous substances used in the workplace. A hazardous substance is one which has, by law, to be labelled as 'very toxic', 'toxic', 'harmful', 'irritant' or 'corrosive'. It therefore includes many chemical substances such as paints and cleaning materials, as well as wood dust.

The obligations to employers are to:

  • assess the risks
  • decide what precautions are needed
  • take steps to reduce or adequately control exposure to hazardous substances
  • ensure that control measures are utilised and maintained
  • monitor exposure
  • carry out health surveillance of employees who have been or are likely to be exposed
  • have in place emergency procedures to deal with accidents/incidents
  • ensure that employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.

Educational establishments must have in place appropriate measures to ensure that the risks to the health and safety of pupils/students from exposure to hazardous substances are minimised.

The HSE's COSHH website gives advice on controlling hazardous substances.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

These regulations set out minimum standards for the use of all equipment at work. They operate in conjunction with other regulations such as the Display Screen Equipment Regulations and the Electricity at Work Regulations. The main requirements are for employers to:

  • take account of working conditions and hazards when selecting equipment
  • provide work equipment which conforms to relevant safety standards
  • ensure that the work equipment is suitable for its intended purpose and used only for that purpose
  • maintain and keep the equipment in good working order
  • ensure that appropriate safety devices are available, if required
  • issue staff with appropriate instructions, training and supervision to use the work equipment safely
  • make sure that equipment is inspected after installation or after assembly at a new location.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007

These regulations cover the planning and management of construction projects. An essential part of a project's development is health and safety. Consequently, there is a duty on those involved in a construction project, such as the controller of buildings (ie the LA/governing body/headteacher/principal), contractors and designers to cooperate with each other to identify risks early on, and to report matters that are likely to endanger health and safety.

There is also a duty to take appropriate measures to prevent the risk of injury to any person during the construction, which would include staff, pupils/students and visitors to the premises.

The HSE's website provides guidance on these regulations. See also our section on the use of contractors on school or college sites.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act came into effect in October 2010. It replaced and condensed over 100 pieces of anti-discrimination legislation including the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It also replaced regulations outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion, belief or age.

The act defines a person as disabled if they "have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". To be substantial, the disability must last or be expected to last for at least 12 months. However, some conditions automatically count as disabilities for the purposes of the act, such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

It is unlawful to treat a disabled person less favourably on the grounds of his or her disability or to fail to make "reasonable adjustments". The HSE website outlines what employers can do to ensure the health and safety of their disabled employees. 

This includes ensuring safe access and egress in the event of evacuation, the provision of the health and safety information, the provision of training in accessible formats (eg Braille/large print/audiotape) and the carrying out of disability sensitive risk assessments.

See disability for more details.

Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981

These regulations require employers to provide:

  • adequate and appropriate first-aid equipment and facilities
  • an adequate number of qualified first aiders
  • an 'appointed person', if a first aider is absent, to take charge of first-aid arrangements, including looking after the equipment and calling the emergency services.

The Approved Code of Practice to the regulations requires that employers carry out a risk assessment to determine their first aid needs. While the regulations relate specifically to the provision of first aid for employees, the HSE strongly recommends that non employees such as pupils and students are included in the assessment and that first aid provision is made for them. This also applies when pupils/students are taken off site.

See First Aid for more details.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Under this order, the 'responsible person' in the workplace (ie the employer/owner/person in control) is required to take general fire safety precautions to ensure the health and safety of staff and others, such as pupils/students. These precautions include:

  • assessing the risk of fire, paying particular attention to those who may be especially vulnerable, eg children
  • ensuring that there are effective means of escape
  • making sure the workplace is well-equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment/detectors/alarms
  • adopting appropriate fire-fighting measures
  • nominating an adequate number of suitably trained and equipped competent persons to implement these measures.

The order contains duties relating to safety drills and emergency routes/exits, which employees must be made aware of at their induction. It applies to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved responsibility for fire safety law although all legislation applies risk assessment principles to managing fire safety. 

Further information on the legal requirements in Northern Ireland and Scotland can be found at:

Also see our section on fire safety for more detailed information.

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.

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