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HSE inspecting further education providers in England and Wales

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced it is inspecting further education (FE) providers in England and Wales to check they are following government COVID-secure guidelines. This follows on from similar work carried out in schools.

The HSE will call FE providers over the telephone to check their risk assessments and the arrangements they have in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. Inspectors may also carry out follow-up visits to review the control measures in place. The campaign begins on Monday 17 May 2021 – the same date face coverings will no longer have to be worn in classrooms or communal areas by pupils.

Calls will also evaluate FE providers’ knowledge and awareness of the relevant government guidance:

Where calls raise concerns, colleges will be referred for further intervention. This may include an on-site visit to check that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been carried out and effective controls implemented in line with the latest guidance. If concerns remain, colleges will be referred to an inspector to carry out a spot inspection.

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Encouraging inspection findings within education

The HSE says it is looking to work with education employers during the checks by providing advice and guidance on how to manage the risks posed by the virus. Most of the HSE’s inspections to date show that employers are making workplace adjustments in line with the recommended COVID-secure guidance.

From September to December 2020, the HSE contacted 5,000 primary and secondary schools in England and Wales about government guidelines. Around 80% of schools were found to have a good understanding of the guidance and what it means to be COVID-secure.

For schools where it was less certain, the HSE undertook some 1,000 site inspections. Encouragingly, nearly all schools were found to have implemented COVID-secure measures in line with government guidelines. No further action was taken in more than half of the schools visited, and in most of the remaining inspections, only minor issues requiring verbal advice were found. 

Less than 1% of inspections identified contraventions of health and safety requiring formal intervention and improvement. However, inspectors did identify some common areas of concern, including social distancing in staff rooms, cleaning regimes and ventilation in school buildings.

Good practice

Inspectors reported the following inventive examples of good practice in schools:

  • Promoting social distancing by issuing students with coloured lanyards to identify their bubble and avoid mixing between different groups.
  • Using coloured spots to highlight frequently-touched points.
  • Using brightly-coloured floor markings to encourage two-metre social distancing.
  • As an alternative to staggered start and finish times, using multiple entrances/exits at the same time.
  • Producing video walkthroughs explaining COVID-secure arrangements for staff and students.
  • Using classroom seating plans to help with self-isolation measures.
  • A click-and-collect app to purchase canteen food, reducing queuing and avoiding crowding.
  • Using video conferencing for staff meetings and phones in classrooms to speak to other staff, reducing face-to-face contact.
"I am so glad we changed to EW. The service is brilliant – they really know all the ins and outs of supporting schools.”

The Manchester Grammar School

Stay safe and compliant with specialist support

It’s vital that all education employers continue to educate themselves, their employees and their students on how best to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s also essential that you can demonstrate the steps you have taken to keep people safe to an inspector, should the HSE pay your sixth form or college a visit.

Our Health & Safety specialists have produced a template Coronavirus Risk Assessment for Secondary and Further Education, which offers operational guidance and will help you to assess your environment and document your COVID control measures. Download it free now or, if you require further advice and support around COVID compliance or any other aspect of health and safety management, call 0345 226 8393 to find out how our sector-experienced safety specialists can help.

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