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Managing risks outside of term-time

The school holiday is the perfect time to make repairs

Posted by Hannah Vickers | August 07, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

By Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal 

With schools across the country having broken up for the long summer holiday, many independent institutions will now be looking to make the best use of their facilities and undertake important repairs during the extended break. This summer activity means close attention needs to be paid to risks that simply do not exist during term time. 

Vacant classrooms and empty playgrounds provide a valuable opportunity to carry out vital maintenance work, including hot works like welding and grinding. Alongside this activity, many independent schools carry further risk throughout the summer with many facilities being opened to outside institutions to meet charitable objectives.

While they represent very different elements of a school's operational considerations, these sorts of activities are essential elements of the independent school calendar. The key is to ensure their associated risks are mitigated as much as possible to ensure they do not unnecessarily impinge on term-time activities. The following tips can help schools prepare for a range of summer activities. 

Cooling risk around hot works

Hot works and grinding present the biggest risk to independent schools during the long summer break. Data in Zurich Municipal’s (ZM) recently published guide to hot works shows that hot works are responsible for up to 15% of all fires in commercial and industrial properties. As well as fire damage, there is also the risk of explosions if sparks come into contact with flammable materials.

ZM’s in-depth guide recommends that a school should first establish whether it even needs to carry out the work, and consider whether it’s possible to avoid processes that generate significant heat or sparks. For instance, certain cutting tasks could be done using hand or electric saws, or pipe cutters, while hand filing may be an alternative to grinding.

If a school decides that hot works are absolutely needed, then it must be aware of the risks involved. As with any major risk, a thorough assessment is one of the main ways schools can mitigate the threats posed by hot works.

Asking the right questions

When employing outside contractors, it is vital that schools retain ownership of projects, and are prepared to ask a few probing questions to satisfy themselves that the work will be carried out safely and to a high standard.

Schools could ask the potential contractor for references from previous work, as well as method statements and details about their quality control systems. If a contractor is not able to give proper answers when asked about the procedures they have in place to keep buildings safe, that should set alarm bells ringing. 

Shared facilities 

The summer risks don’t stop there. The need for independent schools to demonstrate their public benefit has arguably never been stronger, but by opening up their facilities to increased traffic, schools are exposing themselves to more risk. Heads and principals need to make sure their risk management processes are adapted to reflect this.

Before any activities can begin, they should be thoroughly risk assessed and the attendees briefed on health and safety

Before any activities can begin, they should be thoroughly risk assessed and the attendees briefed on health and safety. Trained staff should also be available to supervise the activity. These assessments should also be discussed with the school’s insurer, who will be available to offer additional advice and support where appropriate, including advising on whether changes need to be made to an existing policy to cover any potential accidents.

Once a risk assessment has been completed, every aspect of the use of the school’s facilities should be documented and communicated effectively. Nothing can be assumed when school premises are being used by individuals who are unfamiliar with the school’s ways of working.

Mitigate the risks

The extended summer break presents an excellent opportunity for independent schools to satisfy charitable objectives and undertake valuable work which would be possible during term-time. With the right risk assessment, staff and equipment in place, there is no reason why independent schools cannot reap the benefits of summer.

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