As Christians we are called to live out God's commandment to love our nieghbour - in practical terms this means doing everything we can to protect them from coming to harm.
Our churches should be healthy, safe environments in which communities come together to worship Almighty God and to carry out a range of wholesome activities. All too often though, there is a perception that "Health & Safety Law doesn't apply to us, we are volunteers". It does apply to churches as the Health & Safety Executive's definition of a "workplace" includes anywhere volunteers work. In any case, if you are standing on an unsafe ladder, does that ladder know whether or not you're getting paid for the work you're doing...?
Fortunately there is a lot of support available from Church of England Birmingham's Property Team and in this section we outline what you need to do in order to comply with the Law and keep everyone safe, and what we can do to assist you. Please note that this page gives guidance as to your responsibilities; it is not a full statement of the Law and professional assistance should always be sought in the event of any doubt.
Essentials of Health & Safety
The PCC is legally responsible for taking measures to prevent accidents or ill-health arising from work activities taking place within its premises. This includes providing the training and / or information necessary to ensure safe working practices, and putting in place the procedures and equipment necessary to deal with emergencies. It is the PCC's duty to protect members of the public from coming to harm on its premises.
Employees of the PCC - including volunteers - must by Law comply with any health & safety guidance or instruction given to them, participate in any training offered, report any accidents or near-misses that occur, and never interfere with or damage equipment which is provided for health & safety purposes.
By Law, any organisation with five or more employees - including volunteers - must have a written Health & Safety Policy in place. This needs to be based upon a written Risk Assessment and it needs to be reviewed annually. The PCC must nominate an Appointed Person to take overall responsibility for health & safety matters within the church. This needs to be a senior position within the PCC and the Appointed Person needs to be given authority to deal with any risks identified.
The contents of the Risk Assessment and Health & Safety Policy will to an extent depend upon the nature of the building and its use, but at the very least will need to address fire safety, first aid provision, electrical safety, the personal safety of those working in or around the church, working at height, the use and storage of hazardous substances, manual handling and asbestos. There may be other sections such as food handling / preparation, safety in the churchyard, tower safety, etc., the key is to think about the specific hazards and risks presented by your building.
Note the difference between a hazard and a risk. A hazard is something that can actually cause harm or ill-health, whilst risk is the chance (often expressed as a percentage) that it will do so. A hazard cannot be removed but risk can be lowered or, ideally, removed altogether. Take a fall from height as an example: if somebody falls from height, it will certainly do them harm and therefore it is a hazard. The risk can be removed by ensuring that they do not need to be up at height in the first place or, if this cannot be done, it can be lowered by designing the work in such a way that it can be carried out safely.
This is the essence of Health & Safety: if a risk can be removed, then remove it. If it cannot then design the task so that it can be carried out with the minimum level of risk possible.
Example Risk Assessment and H&S Policy
Download a BLANK Health & Safety Risk Assessment Form in Microsoft Word Format. You can use this form to guide your own risk assessment which can then, in turn, form the basis of your Health & Safety Policy. You can also download a WORKED EXAMPLE to get a feel for the level of detail and the type of content which you need to include.
Download an example Health & Safety Policy in PDF format. This is a real example (from a Team Ministry consisting of four churches in northern England) which has been anonymised. This is not to be "copied" - instead use it as a framework or guide to producing your own Health & Safety Policy based on a Risk Assessment.
Five Things You Must Have
Here are five basic things you need to do straight away (if you haven't already) in order to comply with Health & Safety Law. The good news is that they are all relatively cheap to implement - probably under £100 to do everything - and they will encourage you and everyone who uses the building to start thinking seriously about safety. Use the list below as a checklist.
1. Health & Safety Law Poster
The standard British Health & Safety Law poster, in A3 size, must be displayed in all premises where anyone is employed either as a paid worker or as a volunteer. It gives basic details of everybody's responsibilities and rights under the Law, together with contact details in the event of any concerns. It is available direct from the Health & Safety Executive's online bookshop.
2. Fire Action Sign
The Fire Action Sign gives clear and simple instructions to all building users as to what needs to be done in the event of a fire. It will show how to raise the alarm, how to exit the building speedily and safely, and the muster point at which building users should assemble. It will also tell users what not to do, for instance not to use lifts in the event of a fire.
This should be a durable sign in plastic which conforms to EN ISO7010:2012, and it should be located as close as possible to the building's main entrance.
3. Accident Book
By Law any accidents, workplace-related illness or near misses must be recorded in an Accident Book. Certain accidents - those which result in death or serious injury - must also be reported to the Health & Safety Executive.
The official HSE Accident Book is available from the HSE Bookshop and is designed in such a way that it complies with Data Protection Law and keeps everybody's details confidential.
4. First Aid
You must provide sufficient resources to allow First Aid to take place when required. For most churches a First Aid kit which complies with BS8599-1 will be sufficient; this must be situated in such a place as it can easily be found when needed and there should be a clear sign informing building users where this is. In larger / busier churches where more than one activity could be taking place simultaneously then more than one kit may be needed - one in the Vestry and one in the kitchen, for example.
The PCC will need to nominate someone to act as the Responsible Person whose job it is to keep the contents of the First Aid Kit(s) replenished and in date. You must NEVER keep pain-killing tablets (paracetamol, aspirin, etc.) or any other drugs in a First Aid Kit.
5. Employers' Liability Insurance
Your church's insurance policy will include Employers' Liability Insurance (ELI) as standard - it is a legal requirement. You are required by Law to display one copy of the ELI Certificate in each building where anybody is employed or works as a volunteer.
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