On this page you will find some of the most frequently asked questions about Health and Safety in Places of Worship.
FAQ's are split into a number of different sections:
Regulations and requirements | Responsibilities | What do we need to do? | Risk Assessment | Information and Enforcement
Regulations and requirements
What regulations apply and why do you not list them on your Website?
We are sometimes asked what regulations apply. What we have done is provide a guide to the ways in which common hazards can be controlled in Churches and Places of Worship, and in doing so have tried to make this as user-friendly as possible. We believe that the regulations are important, but the ways of reducing the overall risks more so. It's useful to know for those who want to get more involved or those who are professionals in the field, but for the average 'person in the pew' we believe we have the detail about right.
Will your Website help me establish a safe Place of Worship?
We provide information and resources to assist people to comply with the law by themselves. By following our information, and doing some work yourself you will be well on the way to making your Church or Place of Worship as safe as is reasonable and practical. However, be aware that you will need to do your own Risk Assessment and put measures into place yourself to prevent accidents and minimise the severity of injuries. Please don't expect to find a list of tick-boxes, a generic risk assessment or a document you can copy and paste.
Exactly what do we need to do?
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Every Church and Place of Worship is different. Building layouts are different. The way the premises are used varies. The congregation sizes and age range varies. All this affects the Risk Assessment and no two Churches and Places of Worship would be exactly the same.
The variation between different premises is why we cannot give exact details about what you need to do in your circumstance.
Do Places of Worship need to do anything about Health and Safety?
Yes. There are a number of reasons why Health and Safety is so important, not least that regulations apply and you personally could be taken to court. Health and Safety is basically about preventing harm to people, and this should be a good enough reason why Health and Safety should be taken seriously by all Places of Worship. Besides that, you owe a duty of care to each and every person that enters your premises.
Do any regulations apply to us - we are all volunteers?
It does not matter if you are all paid employees or volunteers, the same basic requirements are the same (although the exact requirements of the regulations might be slightly different). Complying with regulations is only part of what Health and Safety is about as you owe a "Duty of Care" to everyone who uses your building. It is also myth that you need more than five employees for Health and Safety to take affect and it is not something that should just be left alone!
How do the Building Regulations fit into Health and Safety?
The Building Regulations only cover new buildings and major alterations to existing buildings, however, they do provide some useful guidance on certain topics. After all, if that is what new buildings need to achieve, it is a good benchmark for existing premises. The onus is on you to show that you are doing enough in your building and it is useful to refer to official documents and other sources such as the Building Regulations and Approved Documents.
Our building is old, are we exempt?
The age of the building does not matter. Indeed, it might be even more important that you look into Health and Safety because your Place of Worship might not have the same facilities as a new building, like a fire alarm system or modern electrical wiring. You might need to be aware of how changes would affect the building if it is listed and contact your local planning department if in any doubt.
It has not happened in the past, doesn't this mean it won't in the future?
If this is the case (and it is rarely so), you are very lucky, but remember that this gives no guarantee of the future. Many people forget about accidents and view things with 'rose tinted spectacles'. A clean accident book does not show there have been no accidents, only that none have been written down.
Who is responsible?
The person in overall control of the building or organisation would usually be considered as having overall responsibility for Health and Safety. This person is usually the minister or religious leader, but they could be the management committee chairman or a manager - in any case this must be clearly defined in a Health and Safety Policy.
This does no mean that others don't need to do anything - everyone has a responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others. The more responsibility you have in the organisation, the more responsibility you have for Health and Safety.
We are part of a large organisation, do I still need to do anything?
Yes. The requirements are still the same whether you are part of a large group or Churches or an organisation. There might be someone you can contact for help and advice, but you still need to do your own Risk Assessments and you need to do things like test your fire alarm. You might have some documentation supplied, but you still need to have your own policy and Risk Assessments.
What do we need to do?
What is the most important part of Health and Safety?
There are many different things that you need to do to improve Health and Safety, but the most important one is to be aware of Health and Safety issues in and around your premises. The first stage of this is Risk Assessment, but from then on you need to be vigilant and look out for safety hazards. Although it sounds a difficult task, it is quite straightforward (and does not have to involve lots of form-filling).
We have a first aid kit, is this enough?
This is certainly a good start but you also need things like fire extinguishers and exit signs. You also need to do Risk Assessments to work out what things could cause someone harm, and try to reduce the risks to make the building safer. Health and Safety is quite broad and is not limited to the equipment that you have.
Do we need exit signs?
Under the current fire regulations, yes. However, in some situations is might not be advisable to affix signs on walls and doors of historic importance and some careful consideration must be given to exactly where the signs are installed. Note also that the signs must include the 'moving person' symbol (signs that do not include any symbols are not legal).
How much do we need to do?
The amount that you have to do for Health and Safety depends on your Risk Assessment. You need to ask yourself if you are doing enough to limit the risks in your building - higher risks need more Health and Safety measures in place. You must aim to make the risks to as low a level as possible (called "As Low as Reasonable Practicable" in regulations).
Being sensible about what Health and Safety measures you introduce is important too - there is no need to go overboard and ban something that could possibly cause an accident if your Risk Assessment shows a low risk.
How much will it cost?
It depends on the building, but for many Places of Worship, many things can be done for free or at very little cost at all. The larger the building, the more equipment you need, such as fire extinguishers and exit signs.
What is Risk Assessment about?
Risk Assessment is about looking around the building to work out the things that are most likely to cause someone harm. It is designed to make you think about your building and decide for yourself what you need to do to reduce the risks. It allows you to categorise hazards (those things which could cause harm) as having a high, medium or low level of severity and/or probability. This helps to decide what needs to be tackled first.
We don't employ anyone, do we need to do Risk Assessments?
Yes. Risk Assessments must be done in all situations, but you only need to write down the significant findings if you employ five or more people. We recommend that you write down Risk Assessments for future reference.
I have heard that Risk Assessments are available online. Can I use these?
These are sometimes called Generic Risk Assessments, and often have large chunks filled in already, with blank spaces for you to fill in yourself. Often these are made on some very wide and sweeping generalisations and assumptions. It is not acceptable to use these instead of Risk Assessments that you have done yourself, but you an use them as a guide. You are required under regulations to make suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments yourself.
Remember that your Church or Place of Worship is unique so a copied or downloaded assessment is not likely to be suitable for you.
Information and Enforcement
Who enforces Health and Safety regulations?
In Places of Worship, general issues about Health and Safety are enforced by your local District or Borough Council. Fire safety is enforced by your local Fire and Rescue Service.
Should we be inspected regularly?
In most Places of Worship, an inspector will not normally come and inspect the building unless there is a need to (for example, if there is a major accident or fire, or if they receive a complaint). An inspector can call at any reasonable time, and you cannot refuse entry. In the case of food preparation kitchens, an inspector might call from time to time to do a routine check of the kitchen and might do some safety checks at the same time.
Where can I get more advice and information?
There are a number of places you can get more information, including:
- The Health and Safety Executive. Their Website provides a number of downloadable books and documents on specific topics.
- Your local Borough or District Council's Environmental Health Department.
- Your local Fire and Rescue Service.
- Equipment suppliers (who normally give free advice to potential customers).
- Health and Safety consultants (who will usually charge for the service).
- Health and Safety reference books, many of which are available from most Libraries.
There is also more information about Health and Safety on this Website.