There are some issues within schools that everyone knows about, but, sadly, not everyone checks
To say, as I saw in a recent press release, that, “It is important to carry out regular electrical safety practices in schools, not only to protect the children but also the employees,” is not to say very much.
Surely everyone working in a school will fully understand the point.
And yet, I am not sure if everyone actually takes this seriously. The idea is there in theory, but actually looking at one’s own working environment with a critical eye doesn’t always follow.
Which is not to say that I am suggesting that schools are dens of electrical incompetence or indeed any other form of activity which involves law breaking, but rather it is to say that it is easy to know what one should do but then fail to see a lack of application in one’s own workspace.
For example, I have been told about situations in which extension cables run across the floor in a school office, and when a protest was made the answer was, “we’ve been told we can’t have any more wall sockets in here because of the thickness of the walls.”
The point being, of course, that breaking the law is breaking the law, even if it is done because one has no alternative.
It is a bit like having file boxes stacked in the office on shelves above head level. “We’ve nowhere else to put them,” isn’t an excuse if someone has such a box fall on one’s head (and I speak as one who has had some boxes fall on his head – although fortunately I was wearing a hard hat at the time).
The laws in place to protect employees and visitors (and in the law children often seem rather bizarrely classified as “visitors” in schools) apply to schools in the same way as they do in other organisations, that is, legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
In order to comply with the health and safety laws it is up to local authorities, governing bodies, the school technician, and school management to implement strategies to ensure maximum electrical safety. If the school management fails to comply with the governing body’s instructions in terms of health and safety, the governing body can order repairs or maintenance which will then be taken off the school’s budget.
There is also a need for risk assessments carried out by the school’s management to follow the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 Act, and this again is something that is, of course, done in most schools, but occasionally one finds one where there is a senior manager who asserts that “that legislation doesn’t apply to schools”. It does of course.
But beyond this one thing is clear, and that is that electrical maintenance in an institution such as a school should always be carried out by a professional electrician. General repairs can be carried out by the school’s technician such as testing electrical apparatus – but only general repairs.
If you, or a colleague, out of the kindness of your heart and an awareness that the school is short of money, tries to help out, and then something goes wrong, you could be to blame in legal terms.
Beyond this there is the case of who checks the checker? If you have someone in the school who does the electrical checks (or indeed any other type of check), who checks that this person is doing the checking and not just signing the book to say it is done.
Of course, you can’t check everyone all the time – it would be ludicrously expensive and lead to a highly oppressive work environment for everything to be checked. But it does seem to me that very occasional checks of individual details selected on a random basis is no bad thing.
I took this role on of being an occasional checker at one time, and it led me to find a ladder left in front of a fire door. The response, “I was just about to move that,” was not good enough in my view, and got reported. It never happened again.
Did it cause a bit of bad feeling? Yes. Did it save any lives? No, because we didn’t have a fire. Was it worth it? I still think so.
One more thing. Everyone using electrical equipment needs to be fully informed as to how to use the electrical equipment. Now with a photocopier that doesn’t really mean much except, if it fails to work turn the thing off and call a technician.
It all seems so obvious of course, and we all try to balance being correct in our procedures with wanting to help rather than be seen as a jobsworth. But when helping out, it is (in my view, and as always in these little notes, this is only my view) worth remembering what an electric shock is.
An electric shock is caused when electric current passes through the body. It can cause internal burns, brain injury, muscular contractions, respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and fibrillation of the heart.
Personally I always leave everything electrical at work to others. It might get me the occasional dirty look, but somehow it just seems a good precaution.
There are details of the SEAM’s work on www.admin.org.uk and copies of past editions on my ramblings are stored on our blog at http://www.blog.admin.org.uk/ Details of our courses are on http://admin.org.uk/courses.html