Work Matters: Policy Q&A - Health and Safety - Risk assessments could be simplified


Nurseries concerned about risk will be interested in new proposals over health and safety, say Tabitha Cave and Natalie Andrews.

Lord Young published his recommendations for sweeping changes to the health and safety regime in the UK at the end of October. In the report he champions a return to common-sense principles over what he sees as the bureaucratic burdens and red tape associated with health and safety in the UK.

In our view, these recommendations, if implemented, are likely to improve the situation considerably for nurseries.

Lord Young's proposals include plans to:

  • - review the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in order to separate play and leisure from workplace contexts and to reduce the bureaucratic burden on nurseries
  • - address the UK's 'compensation culture' and reduce the fear of, and scope for, unmeritorious litigation
  • - simplify the risk assessment procedure in low-hazard environments, such as classrooms
  • - shift from a system of risk assessment to a system of risk-benefit analysis
  • - create checklists to enable schools and nurseries to check and record their compliance
  • - simplify educational visits by introducing a single consent form covering all activities a child may undertake at nursery.

Q: How will this affect us in reality?

Lord Young stated that misinterpretations of health and safety law have led to the creation of uninspiring play spaces for children, which do not enable children to experience risk. He appreciates that play is an essential part of any child's development and should not be sacrificed because of an over-zealous interpretation of health and safety laws.

In order to implement his ideas, he also proposed further development of the DfE and Department for Culture, Media and Sport play programme.

Q: Do we still have to carry out risk assessments?

Lord Young proposed to streamline the risk assessment process and to put health and safety in 'low hazard workplaces', such as classrooms, back into perspective. He wants to lighten the load on nursery staff by the introduction of simplified risk assessments and by encouraging a shift from the traditional system of risk assessment to a system of risk-benefit analysis, where potential positive impacts are weighed against potential risks.

In response, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already developed an interactive risk assessment for classrooms which is available now at http://www.hse.gov.uk/consult/condocs/risk-assessment/classroom.htm.

Lord Young also asked the HSE to develop a simple online periodic checklist to provide nurseries and other educational establishments with a record of the action that they have taken to address risks and to assist in demonstrating compliance with their health and safety responsibilities.

The proposals do not take away the obligation to consider hazards and assess risks associated with nursery activities, but are likely to go a long way towards making it less of a burden on staff.

Q: Can we still be sued if something goes wrong?

The fear of being sued for breach of health and safety regulations is often cited as a valid reason not to do something worthwhile. Lord Young aims to strike the difficult balance, by allowing genuine claimants access to justice, while addressing the more unscrupulous personal injury claims of management companies and solicitors.

If these recommendations are implemented, nurseries should be able to operate with confidence and without the spectre of unmeritorious litigation against them in the future.

That said, the media also has an important role to play in influencing public perception of health and safety and in addressing the root causes of the so-called 'compensation culture'. If Lord Young's objectives are going to be achieved, we need to put a stop to the sensational (and largely misreported) health and safety stories and urban myths reported in the press, or learn to take them with the pinch of salt they deserve!

Q: How will the proposed changes affect trips and visits?

Lord Young singled out educational visits as a particular area for improvement. The practice of citing health and safety or the fear of legal claims as valid reasons for non-participation in trips and visits will no longer be acceptable.

In an effort to tackle this problem, he aims to cut the bureaucracy and form-filling currently associated with trips and visits and to simplify the risk assessment process.

He also recommended the introduction of a single consent form signed by a parent or guardian which will cover all activities a child may undertake during their time at the nursery.

Hopefully this will mean that nursery staff will be able to focus on making sure that children enjoy trips and visits, rather than spending all of their time form-filling and worrying about every eventuality!

Q: What does the future hold for nurseries?

The theme running through Lord Young's report is its need to get health and safety back into perspective. Although Lord Young is no longer in post, his approach has been embraced by the Government and his recommendations are likely to be implemented.

In reality, the majority of these objectives could probably be achieved if everyone involved took the common-sense approach to the application of current health and safety legislation he advocates. Nurseries should continue to encourage their staff to take a sensible and proportionate attitude to health and safety issues.

That said, the proposed modifications of the existing legislative framework are likely to help ease the administrative burden on nurseries and should tackle some of the uncertainties surrounding health and safety issues, which is good news all round.

Further information

If you have any queries relating to the issues discussed in this article, please speak with Tabitha Cave or another member of the Early Years Team at Veale Wasbrough Vizards. Her contact details are: 0117 314 5381 or tcave@vwv.co.uk. Alternatively, please contact Natalie Andrews on 0117 314 5433 or at nandrews@vwv.co.uk.

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