‘You’ve clearly put effort into making this a welcoming and safe place for children’, was a quote I heard from a parent during an outreach activity. The thought that had been put into ensuring those coming were safe was not onerous, but it clearly impacted on their positive view of the assembly.
The Lord expects us to show care towards the lost, and fellow saints. Virtually all accidents are preventable, and harm coming to someone simply due to our lack of forethought, is the antithesis of love. The young and elderly, feature heavily in the outreach activities and makeup of many groups of the Lord’s people, and are particularly vulnerable to some risks.
Most people have had the experience of seeing someone hurt or ill, and not knowing what to do. Some basic Health and Safety knowledge can demonstrate our concern for others.
Clearing up after a nasty accident, phoning a parent to say their child has been taken to hospital, or having to attend court are far more unpleasant, costly, and time consuming than a bit of effort put into preventative measures. A member of the assembly being seriously injured, or the building being significantly damaged, could have long term implications for the testimony.
Some of the issues are legal requirements – we comply with legislation where it does not conflict with the scriptures.
‘We trust the Lord for safety’, Ps. 4. 8. When driving we are ultimately depending on the Lord – however we also take sensible precautions.
‘Nobody is employed at the premises’. While that means that some legislation does not apply, some law specifically applies to ‘persons in charge of a non-domestic premise’ irrespective of its use.
‘Driving to the hall is more dangerous than being in the meeting’. That is probably true – and it is important to take a proportionate approach.
‘I'm not trained in risk assessments’. But you are likely to be very experienced in doing them! For example, when using hot liquids at home, we assess how we (and others) could be harmed, and take reasonable actions to reduce it.
‘We have managed for long enough without these new rules’. The main statutory requirement has existed for about forty years.
‘You can’t eliminate risk’. Very true – health and safety considerations are there to help reasonably manage risk.
Legal compliance is not the only reason for thinking about Health and Safety however, there are some specific legal duties to be aware of in English law.
Those responsible for a non-domestic premise, whether used for profit or not, have responsibilities to ensure a reasonable level of safety regarding access, egress, and anything within the property, HEALTH & SAFETY AT WORK ACT 1974. This, along with the increasing trend for the courts to treat volunteers as employees, means carrying out risk assessments and ensuring health and safety arrangements are in place, THE MANAGEMENT OF HEALTH & SAFETY AT WORK REGULATIONS 1999.
Some issues, (for example asbestos and fire safety), carry specific responsibilities for duty holders. If the assembly, or the trust holding the building, is a registered charity, the Charity Commission expects relevant legislation to be complied with.
There is a common law duty to consider anyone whom I should reasonably have in mind by my acts or omissions. Specific requirements do change over time and will also vary by jurisdiction. It is important that building trustees and elders have a method to stay informed of their particular legislative context.
It is essential to consider whether actions taken to reduce one issue introduce or increase a different problem. So, for example, actions taken to stop children running out of the building, such as locking doors, need to be considered in light of where we need a quick exit route because of fire.
This article does not deal in detail with:
Like many spiritual things, good safety management is about being balanced rather than going to extremes!
There needs to be clear communication about responsibilities between the building trustees and the assembly elders so that all are clear on who is doing what. The principles here also apply to camps, outings, etc.
Documenting a short Health and Safety policy and Risk assessment is a wise thing to do. There are some visitors who may ask to see it, such as a school visit or a childminder attending a toddler group. It makes it much easier to demonstrate a responsible attitude post-accident.
The provisions are less likely to reduce over time (due to people forgetting, moving away, or the activities changing) if they are in a document that can be periodically reviewed. Insurance documents, inspection records, and details of incidents/first-aid treatment also need to be kept and accessible.
Basic building considerations for trustees
Asbestos needs to be managed in accordance with the CONTROL OF ASBESTOS REGULATIONS 2012.4
Gas and electricity installations should be regularly checked by a suitably qualified engineer.
Walking surfaces need to be clear with suitable grip. Changes in level should be obvious and have a handrail.
Activities at height. Access to places from where a fall could take place to be restricted and safeguards such as railings and handrails provided. Where items, roof tiles, snow, etc, could fall off a roof on a passer-by, a gutter fence should be considered.
Sufficient lighting inside and outside of the building.
Low beams and other similar obstructions minimised and marked to make obvious.
Work to the building carried out only by those who are genuinely competent. Any tools on site should be stored safely.
Assessments need only to be ‘suitable and sufficient for the key risks’ – not exhaustive about every imaginable scenario! Writing the answers to these questions will give it some structure.
What are the tasks being undertaken? For each task, or group of tasks if they are similar, what hazards could someone be affected by?
Are there people with specific needs who need more consideration – e.g., children, expectant mothers, the elderly, those with a disability.
For each hazard, how likely is it to occur? If it did occur how serious would it be? (A simple ‘Low’, ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ will be sufficient here – the objective is to make sure priority is given to those where the combination of likelihood and severity is highest).
For each significant risk, what actions are currently being taken to minimize its likelihood and severity?
Is there more that could reasonably be done? ‘Reasonableness’ takes into account the time, cost and effort relative to the risk – the higher the risk, the more it is reasonable to do something to reduce it. Priority should be given to removing or reducing hazards where that is possible.
Who will do the actions and by when? How often should the assessment be reviewed? (Annually is a good starting point).
A gas boiler that has not been serviced for many years has a high likelihood of failing and, if it did so, the consequences could be very serious. The simple and relatively cheap actions of organizing an annual service by a suitably qualified engineer and installing a carbon monoxide alarm would therefore be reasonable steps to take.
Typical hazards and potential controls.
Driving risks: responsible drivers, maintained vehicles, use of seat belts, entry and exit of vehicle supervised. How do pedestrians, especially children, stay safe if there is a car park or road nearby to the hall?
Burns: Drink spillages minimized and appropriate cups used; heaters either guarded or not too hot to touch; children kept out of kitchen;
Slips/trips: trailing cables minimized and those remaining covered; snow/ice cleared; walkways kept clear of items on floor; spillages cleared promptly;
Baptistry: minimum time uncovered, consider a physical barrier (e.g., chairs);
Cuts: craft activities age-appropriate, knives stored out of sight;
Electrocution: circuits and extension leads not overloaded, socket covers used, wires in good condition;
Chemicals: the minimum amounts necessary of cleaning fluids and similar stored in a secure cupboard out of sight and reach;
Lone ‘working’: someone being at the hall, or doing a task like leaflet distribution, on their own increases the potential severity if they were to injure themselves, or suffer an illness during that time. Simple precautions such as them having a mobile phone, and someone else being aware of what time they would be expected to return, are sensible.
Part of ‘reasonable precautions’ is thinking about how to respond if someone is injured or becomes seriously ill.
Is there someone present who can do first aid?
Is there suitable first-aid equipment that is periodically checked for completeness/expiry?
Where children are cared for, it is prudent to have requested relevant background information, such as allergies, and have home contact information readily available.
Any injuries or treatment given should be recorded.
Any injury or treatment involving children should be communicated to their parents.
Having a first aider at meetings is not a statutory requirement. However, a basic first-aid course is easy to do, can be used to meet people from the local area and the skills learnt may enable an act of kindness to be shown one day, Gal. 6. 10.
A child picks up a hypodermic needle that was left in the toilets by a recent visitor.
One of those in fellowship offers to give children a car ride home.
A summary is available at : http://www.stewardship.org.uk/Fireriskassessmentsforchurchesandcharities.pdf and a comprehensive government document at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/14888/fsra-small-medium-assembly.pdf
For more information: http://www.preciousseed.org/article_detail.cfm?articleID=21
All churches should have Safeguarding arrangements. For more information see: www.ccpas.co.uk
For a summary see: http://www.stewardship.org.uk/Managingasbestosinchurchbuildings.pdf