Schools should be places that are safe for pupils and staff, and a lot of hard work must go into making sure that this is the case.
Risk assessments are very common, from PE lessons to school trips, and one type of risk assessment, the COSHH risk assessment, is just as important. In this article, we’re going to go over some of the key things to be aware of when it comes to this important task.
COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. It’s a set of regulations and procedures that ensure people are safe from hazardous substances, which can include chemicals, gases, fumes and more. COSHH is a legal responsibility for employers, and of course will mean that schools must keep students safe too. The full laws behind COSHH are the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
Hazardous substances can often be more common than you might think. Cleaning products are generally one of the types of item that can be dangerous without people even thinking, and they’ll be in extensive use in schools. However, in schools the more obvious hazards will be those presented by science lab chemicals, or even products used by the design and technology department.
When it comes to COSHH, risk assessments can sometimes be quite detailed, and it may therefore be helpful to use a risk assessment template. These are widely available, but you don’t have to use one. Under law, businesses under 5 employees don’t have to record their assessment, but in a school, this will be essential, and the assessment should be comprehensive.
There are broadly three main steps to carrying out a COSHH risk assessment, and they are as follows.
The first thing you’ll be doing is identifying any hazards. This means finding and identifying any substances that may be hazardous to health, many of which we’ve already covered. Make sure that you’re comprehensive in your identification, and bear in mind that not all hazards will be present all of the time. Science lab stores may be easy to check, but contracted cleaners may bring in their own products onto premises that are not kept on site.
Once you have a good idea of all the potential risks, you need to decide how the risk might present itself. Cleaning products for instance are unlikely to be encountered by children, but what if they were? Similarly, are the cleaners at risk from regularly using potentially harmful cleaning products?
Once the risks, and those at risk have been established, the risk assessment will call for precautions. This means putting in place measures that are designed to mitigate or stop each individual identified hazard. For example, the most common measure taken will be to ensure that all hazardous substances are locked away, and can only be accessed by trained staff. Alternatively, measures might include ensuring those at risk have the right protective equipment, such as goggles in the science lab or cleaning gloves.
As COSHH is a legal requirement, and health and safety issues are of paramount importance, you should always consider formal training to ensure that you and your employees are fully clued up on how COSHH works and how it can be implemented. Virtual College is a leading provider of e-learning courses, and health and safety is one of our specialisms. Click here to be taken to our COSHH overview course page, which is a great introduction for those who need to know about this important law.