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Starting off with Health and Safety

If you are just beginning with Health and Safety, it can be hard to decide how to start.  With so much to think about (and the thought of lots of paperwork), many people are put off starting.  This page is designed to give some pointers on how to plan and start the 'Health and Safety process' in a Church or Place of Worship.

It has been said that Health and Safety is common sense.  That is true to an extent, but to be successful at preventing harm, it is important to gather information specific to the premises, along with what goes on there too.  Much of the process will be about gathering information from resources such as this Website, the Health and Safety Executive's Website, experts and other resources, including the members of the congregation and information from manuals and plans.

Safety in Churches and Places of Worship

Health and Safety is about reducing the chance of someone being harmed.  It is not about eliminating all risk (which is impossible), but controlling it to being it to acceptably low levels.  This should be the overriding aim at all times.

Risk Assessment is central to Health and Safety and is a requirement of the law.  Risk Assessment should be used in every stage of the process in one form or another - it is a decision making process.  Risk Assessment provides a framework, or structure, on which everything else can be built, and this produces safe places to work and worship.

Do not get Risk Assessment confused with a document or form with Risk Assessment written on the top.  Risk Assessment is simply a fancy name for a method of making decisions about Health and Safety.  In some cases, the significant findings of the Risk Assessment need to be written down, but in some situations, pen does not have to be committed to paper.

Risk Assessment is carried out by everyone even without thought.  Every time someone crosses the road, they consider the traffic at the crossing.  Whenever someone drives a car, similar assessments are made about how fast to travel, when to pull out of a junction and when to overtake.  The process of Risk Assessment in Churches and Places of Worship is fundamentally the same process.

Churches and Places of Worship vary in size from small to very large, from a single room to a large building with many rooms on numerous floor levels.  The people that use the premises could be very young, very old, disabled or have other needs that need to be taken into consideration.  Every situation is different and the needs of every congregation vary - this is why each Risk Assessment will be different to another one.

There is no instant answer or tick-list, and there is no point copying another Risk Assessment from a Place of Worship down the road.  Health and Safety is about the way in which you manage risks in your situation and it is unique to your situation!  Yes, you will need to devote some time to it, but it is rewarding.  Over the years, businesses have found that there are many direct and indirect benefits to good Health and Safety that far outweigh the costs incurred.

Suggestions on how to get started

The following is a guideline on how to start in your own Church or Place of Worship:

Bullet pointStart by planning.  Think about what needs to be done, from creating a Policy, to doing the various Risk Assessments and then implementing any measures that are needed.  Decide how much time you have and who will be involved. Don't let this stage take too much time, however, as you need to start on the important work as soon as possible.

Bullet pointConsider setting up some kind of committee. This would usually be about six to eight people who should reflect the mix of people and activities in your Church or Place of Worship.  It is best to find people with experience, perhaps from their work situation, or people who bring specific skills or understanding to the group.  The committee is not necessarily a committee of people who will do everything, but can be a group of people who can be consulted with about safety matters.

Bullet pointDo an initial audit.  Look for the various safety issues and concerns in your Church or Place of Worship, again writing them down as a reference for later.  Most of the issues you will already know about - you might also know how to fix them instantly, even if only as a temporary measure.  A self-assessment audit questionnaire form is available as a download to Members to help with this process.

Bullet pointStart to think about the other hazards in your Church or Place of Worship that might not have been discovered in the initial audit.  With the information, compile a list of Hazards.  A so-called Hazards Inventory is useful as a starting point for the Risk Assessment.

Bullet pointEnsure you have the basic safety equipment in place.  Please see the list below.

Bullet pointDo a more detailed and complete Risk Assessment.  Additional forms and resources are available as downloads to Members to help with this. 

Bullet pointBegin to put things into place to reduce the risks, based on the Risk Assessment process above.  A planner can be useful to identify what needs to be done, by whom and when - but this can be as simple as a piece of paper or a white-board.

Bullet pointStart writing a Health and Safety Policy.  A starter document is available as a download to Members.

Bullet pointDiscuss any safety concerns with others who use the building - from members of your congregation who might lead a group (such as a choirmaster or worship leader) and include people from outside groups that use the building (such as a mums-and-tots group who hire the premises every week).  Let them know what you are doing and ask them if they have any issues they would like to see addressed.

Bullet pointWork through the topics listed on the Information section of the this Website one by one.  This will need some additional Risk Assessments or others might need to be revisited.  Make any changes to the Policy that are necessary as you work through this stage and consider any additional training needs (such as a first aid course).

Bullet pointRepeat the Risk Assessment process and continue reviewing your Health and Safety procedures.  You'll be surprised how much you have learned after just 6 months or so reading about Health and Safety, and putting things into place, that mean your revised Risk Assessment will be even better.  Ensure you keep doing the audit reviews and continue improving Health and Safety.  Keep up-to-date with new regulations and guidelines.

Bullet pointWrite things down as you carry on for future reference, although there is no need to rely on paperwork for everything.  In some situations, it might not be a legal requirement to have written Risk Assessments and a written Policy.  However, It is useful to have these documents in writing for reference or if an inspector should call as you can prove that you are moving in the right direction, even if you are not doing everything quite yet.   A diary can be used as a simple logbook.

You won't be able to do everything immediately.  Break it down and plan carefully - perhaps aim to take on one topic per month, or one room at a time.  The way in which you prioritise is up to you and should reflect those things you feel are most important in your situation, but every topic needs to be considered in time.

Initial Audit

The Initial Audit is a way of finding out what is already being done, and what safety issues there are.  This can be any format, and the simplest way is to tour the property, taking notes about anything that is a significant safety hazard and noting what safety precautions are in place.  This is sometimes also called a 'Gap Analysis' as it is looking for the gaps in compliance.

The tour would cover all areas, including those places not often accessed.  It might be useful for more than one person to do this at the same time because different people will notice different things.

Some of the items to consider in your initial audit include:

Bullet pointIs there a first aid kit and are the contents in date?
Bullet pointDo you have fire extinguishers?  Are these serviced and maintained?
Bullet pointDo you have a fire alarm and is this tested regularly and maintained?
Bullet pointIs there emergency lighting and is this tested and maintained?
Bullet pointAre there any significant tripping hazards?  Are all floor surfaces in good condition?
Bullet pointIs the lighting adequate, especially around steps and ramps?
Bullet pointAre areas at height properly protected to prevent falls where necessary?
Bullet pointAre there any hazards or problems you know about already?
Bullet pointAre there signs of misuse of equipment, vandalism or other damage?
Bullet pointIs there anything that has caused an accident, fire or near miss in the last 12 months?
Bullet pointAre people aware what to do if there is a fire?  Is there a fire evacuation procedure?
Bullet pointDo people know what to do if they need first-aid treatment?

Basic equipment you should have

The list below would usually be the minimum equipment needed in any Church or Place of Worship.  In some situations, additional equipment is also essential, such as an electrical fire alarm, smoke detectors or emergency lighting.  It is also essential to maintain this equipment (such as checking that the first aid kit has not been used or arranging a service of fire safety equipment).

The basic equipment needed in every Church or Place of Worship includes:

  1. A first aid kit and an accident book (See note below)
  2. Fire extinguishers
  3. Exit signs
  4. Health and Safety Law poster
  5. Fire Action poster or procedure

It is also important to have appropriate Public Liability Insurance and, if people are employed, Employers Liability Insurance, alongside any building and contents insurance.

Note - an accident book is not always required by law, but it is recommended that a list of all accidents and 'near misses' be kept as this provides useful information for later review.

Review and Continual Improvement

It has been stated that Rome was not built in one day.  The same goes for Health and Safety.  It is a process of learning from incidents, Risk Assessments and discussions with other people to create new ideas of better ways things can be done.

Risk Assessments should be reviewed periodically, along with other documents such as the Health and Safety Policy and any instructions.  This is often done every year, but early on in the process, the review might sometimes need to be sooner while others can be done less frequently.  In fact, any change that could affect the validity of a document should result in the document being reviewed and revised as necessary to ensure it is always up-to-date.  This might be as simple as initialling and dating an item on a Risk Assessment when the item has been completed.

The overall aim should be to improve safety.  It is a good idea to set aims and objectives each year with the PCC, Trustees or Elders, as part of a management review of Health and Safety.  This ensures that the most senior people are fully engaged in Health and Safety.  In any case, it would be recommended that one member of the PCC, one of the Trustees or an Elder takes on Health and Safety as part of their function or remit.

Further information

For information on specific Health and Safety topics, please view our Health and Safety Information Contents page.

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