HSE guidance for reopened schools

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance for schools on ensuring they remain Covid-secure as they reopen for the Spring term.

England’s health and safety watchdog has reminded schools that they must have mitigating measures in place to control the risks from Covid-19, as well as “arrangements in place to ensure effective supervision, monitoring and review of expected standards.”

Inspectors from the HSE conducted spot checks and inspections on primary and secondary schools over a 3-month period from September to December 2020.

They contacted 5000 schools in England and Wales to check they were following the correct guidelines, with spot checks spanning all regions and including a proportionate number of state-maintained, independent and special schools.

Government guidelines for the reopening of schools have not changed substantially since these inspections, and the HSE has set out its findings, including areas for improvement.

Inspectors found that around 80% of schools had a good understanding of the guidance and what it means to be Covid-secure.

The HSE undertook over 1,000 follow-up inspections at those schools where it was less certain that they were correctly following guidance to check the measures they had in place.

For more than half of the schools visited, there was no further action. For most of the remaining inspections only minor issues were detected which resulted in verbal advice.

Formal interventions and improvement measures were required in less than 1% of schools visited, after health and safety contraventions were uncovered by inspectors.

Areas of concern included social distancing in staff rooms and kitchens or canteens, cleaning regimes and ventilation in some school buildings. Inspectors found that most schools were relying on windows or doors being open for long periods of time in order to achieve ventilation. This led to issues around maintaining comfortable room temperatures for students and staff members, especially during the colder months.

The HSE has since updated its own guidance regarding ventilation and air-conditioning, which they say should help school leaders to balance these needs.

Other issues that inspectors provided advice on included:

  • Schools using generic risk assessments that did not include specific detail for their site
  • Lack of effective systems for the regular monitoring and review of risk assessments
  • Fire doors being propped open in order to provide ventilation
  • Inappropriate rooms being used for isolating suspected cases
  • Arrangements for managing external visitors and/or contractors

Inspectors also found lots of examples of schools promoting good practice in innovative ways, such as:

  • Promoting social distancing by issuing pupils with coloured lanyards to identify their bubble and to help avoid mixing between different bubbles
  • Using brightly coloured floor markings in school playgrounds to encourage two metre social distancing between parents and pupils during drop-off and collection times
  • Focusing on handwashing and UV light as a means of promoting effective hand hygiene as part of specific school projects, such as science projects
  • Producing video walkthroughs explaining Covid-secure arrangements for pupils and parents
  • Use of classroom seating plans to help with self-isolation measures
  • Using a click-and-collect app to purchase food from the canteen to reduce queues and avoid crowding
  • Using video conferencing for staff meetings and phones in classrooms to speak to other staff in order to reduce face-to-face contact.

The government has provided specific guidance about actions schools should take during the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

The HSE has said that it will continue to investigate any concerns or incidents reported to them about school safety measures.

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safety, first aid, fire safety, manual handling, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care, safeguarding and more.

They work with a large number of early years and childcare providers, as well as schools, colleges, and children’s services. Their courses include Safeguarding Children, Understanding Mental Health and Anxiety Awareness.

They can also provide accredited trainers to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training, certificated by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

A trainer from FRT says: “It is fantastic that schools have been able to reopen as this is so vital for the mental health and wellbeing of children, as well as their physical, mental and social development and, obviously, their education.

“It’s now really important that schools understand the guidance and the measures they need to maintain so that they can keep their staff and students as safe as possible.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to [email protected]