Post-Pandemic Health and Safety

For the last 18 months, school leaders have, rightly so, devoted the majority of their time to navigating a constantly evolving situation. They have remained resilient, faced new challenges and done an incredible job of juggling COVID compliance with students’ educational needs – even receiving praise from the HSE for their efforts.

However, with a new academic year fast approaching, the time has come for schools to refocus their attention on other governance-critical areas, namely regular health and safety management.

Changing the mindset

Supporting schools on a daily basis, my experience is that, where there’s direct application to children’s learning, staff do it; if there’s no direct correlation (as is the case with certain areas of health and safety), these areas sometimes don’t get actioned.

School staff must stop seeing health and safety as an unnecessary burden, or an adjunct to their role; it must become engrained within the learning environment. After all, a safe and healthy environment – for both staff and students – is fundamental to educating children.

Staying compliant in school health and safety management

We know that the HSE, insurers and the OFSTED are likely to be visiting schools.

In reality, there’s only so long schools can remain ‘regulator ready’. While schools want to show their best side, this can be tiring, and over time standards begin to slip. School leaders must therefore ensure they have the necessary documentation in place all year round given that the HSE can turn up without notice.

What’s more, governors and trustees should scrutinise and challenge what school leaders are doing; they must be eyes-on (strategic) and hands-off (leaving day-to-day operations to school staff) whilst ensuring that health and safety is a key area of focus.

Ultimately, school leaders just want to do the right thing; in my eyes, that’s looking after students, staff and others by focusing time on health and safety.

So, what can school leaders do to address all of the above?

  1. Audit to identify any gaps in your health and safety management system
  2. Put plans in place to plug those gaps, and;
  3. Involve others by communicating and don’t carry all the baggage alone

Relaxation of standards with school health and safety management

Although restrictions are easing, we must all remain vigilant. Towards the end of last term, the relaxation of standards started to become more evident; this can be seen in playgrounds, where face masks aren’t worn as much as they once were. Similarly, those who are fully vaccinated may become less stringent in following COVID safety measures.

Whilst we’re all eager for normality to return, it could be a little too early to abandon precautions just yet, especially with new variants circumnavigating the globe. School leaders must follow, and be in a position to demonstrate that they are following, the most relevant
government guidance.

Personal hygiene

Two types of person are likely to emerge as restrictions lift: those who continue to lather themselves in sanitiser and disinfect every surface they touch, and those who abandon these elevated standards of personal hygiene and return to the good old days.

COVID-19 has taught us that we can increase our level of personal hygiene if we believe the threat of mortality is real. However, we have also learnt that this can come at a cost; continuous cleaning can be a psychological trigger (causing obsessive thoughts and actions) and can also damage our skin, the body’s largest organ.

School leaders must be mindful of striking the balance, taking into account individuals’ psychological health.

Jumping to COVID conclusions

Before COVID-19 existed, we were well versed with the common cold, flu and other ailments.

Going forward, it’s important that we don’t assume a COVID diagnosis every time a person doesn’t feel themselves. Of course, if they are showing signs and symptoms, then they should get tested, but we should resist the urge to jump to conclusions. As we enter a new academic year and brace for the upcoming winter seasons, we must bear in mind that not all ailments are COVID-related.

Ultimately, while vigilance is important, COVID must now become one of many health and safety considerations for schools, rather than the full focus.

School insurance from Towergate

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The information contained in this article is based on sources that we believe are reliable and should be understood as general risk management and insurance information only. It is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any specific or individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such. If you wish to discuss your specific requirements, please do not hesitate to contact your usual Towergate Insurance adviser.