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back to school toolkit – health and safety

The UK Government recently announced their conditional plan for the gradual return to school of certain pupils from week commencing 1 June 2020. In response to this announcement, schools are now preparing to welcome back pupils in accordance with Government Guidance, at the forefront of which is the safety of all pupils and staff.

One of the main challenges associated with pupils returning to schools is health and safety. This is true both for the period leading up to when pupils return to school and once pupils and staff are back at school.

Here are some actions that we recommend schools take:

Risk assessments

  • Schools are required to carry out and document a risk assessment to identify any hazards and measures that are necessary to eradicate the hazards or minimise the risk for pupils and staff.
  • Risk assessments should be carried out before pupils return to school.
  • Risk assessments will be site specific but areas that schools may need to consider include but are not limited to the following:
    • By 1 June 2020 it is likely that many school buildings will have been stood empty for around 11 weeks. Schools must therefore carry out statutory site checks to ensure that buildings are safe for pupils and staff to return to.
    • Schools are also being advised to commission a deep clean of the school buildings and equipment and to draw up a cleaning regime to be implemented once pupils and staff are back at school.
    • Schools should assess what PPE is required and make purchases so that PPE is available for when pupils and staff return to school. The Guidance suggests that PPE will only be required where staff are required to supervise a pupil who has developed symptoms at school where a 2 metre distance cannot be maintained. It’s likely that cleaners will also require PPE.

Once pupils and staff return to school

  • A key measure that schools will have to grapple with is social distancing and how this can be achieved in school, particularly with early years and primary school age children. Practical measures such as staggering timetables and changing classroom layouts could be implemented to minimise the contact between different people.
  • Schools will also need to develop and implement a policy should a pupil or staff member start displaying symptoms of Covid-19 whilst at school. School should think about what steps will be taken in these situations and designate a location in school where pupils may go whilst waiting for parent collection. Furthermore, thoughts will need to be given as to what PPE will be given to staff who will be supervising children in this designated area.
  • It must be remembered that schools’ statutory duties continue despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This includes duties towards protecting the health, safety and welfare of employees at work.
  • The measures and controls that schools put in place for welcoming pupils and staff back to school should be regularly reviewed to ensure that they are working effectively. Risk assessments should be updated to reflect any changes made.

Health and Safety FAQ’s

We have brought together a number of FAQs which will be of use to schools in the planning and preparations of re-opening schools:

No, according to the Government Guidance, wearing a face covering or mask in schools is not recommended. Furthermore, the majority of staff members will not require additional PPE beyond what they would normally require for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain 2 metres away from others. In any event, face masks should not be worn by those who may not be able to use them as directed, for example, young children as this may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission of the virus.

UK Government Guidance has set out the instances in which PPE may be required as follows:

  • If care routinely involves the use of PPE due to the provision of intimate care needs, this should continue as normal.
  • If a child becomes unwell with symptoms of Covid-19 whilst at school and needs direct personal care before they can return home. In this instance, a face mask should be worn by a supervising member of staff if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained. If contact with the child is necessary, then gloves, an apron and a face mask should be worn by the supervising member of staff. If a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes, for example, from coughing, spitting or vomiting, then eye protection should also be worn by the supervising member of staff.
  • The minimum amount of PPE to be worn by cleaners is disposable gloves and an apron. If a risk assessment indicates that there is a high level of the virus present or there is visible contamination of an area with bodily fluids, then additional PPE to protect the eyes, mouth and nose may be necessary.

If pupils or members of staff develop symptoms of Covid-19, they should not attend school. The Guidance is clear that it is not necessary for parents or members of staff to take a pupil’s temperature every morning, therefore it is important that schools communicate clearly with parents what the symptoms might be and that if their child develops any of the symptoms that the child should remain at home.

If pupils or staff develop symptoms whilst at school, they should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 7 days. Members of their household should self-isolate for 14 days.

If a pupil has developed symptoms whilst at school and is waiting to be collected to go home, they should be moved to a room (ideally with an open window) where they can be isolated behind a closed door with appropriate adult supervision if required. If the pupil needs to use the bathroom during this time, they should use a separate bathroom where possible which should be cleaned and disinfected before being used by anyone else. As discussed above, PPE should be worn by the supervising member of staff if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained. If it is not possible to isolate the pupil with symptoms, they should be moved to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people.

Staff and pupils and the members of their households will be eligible for testing if they become unwell with Covid-19 symptoms. If a pupil or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19, the rest of their class should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. The household members of the wider class do not need to self-isolate unless the pupil or staff member within their household develops symptoms.

If a member of staff has assisted a pupil who is unwell, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms or the pupil tests positive for Covid-19.

UK Government Guidance has confirmed that schools are expected to re-open their kitchens and should provide meal options for all children who are attending school.

To minimise the risk to pupils and staff, schools should consider staggering lunch breaks. Pupils should be encouraged to wash their hands before entering shared areas, such as halls or canteens, which should be used at half capacity. Pupils should enter these areas in their small classroom groups (up to a maximum of 15 pupils). Class groups are able to share these areas but each small group should be kept separate as much as possible. Schools should ensure that adequate cleaning regimes are in place, for example, tables should be cleaned after use by each group. If such measures are not possible, pupils should be brought their lunch in their classrooms.

The Guidance acknowledges that early years and primary age children cannot be expected to adhere to social distancing and remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff.

In order to reduce contact between people as much as possible, the Government is recommending that pupils and members of staff only mix in small, consistent groups and that these small groups stay away from other groups. For primary schools, groups should be no more than 15 pupils and one teacher (and, if required, a teaching assistant). Where it is possible for pupils to be kept 2 metres apart, they should be. For example, classroom layouts may need to be changed to enable desks to be positioned as far apart as possible. Groups should also use the same classrooms and desks every day and these should be cleaned thoroughly after the end of each day.

To minimise the risk of groups mixing, schools should consider timetable changes. For example, staggering break and lunch times or school start and finish times. Schools could also consider placing a divider down the middle of corridors and implementing a one-way system although brief, transitory contact between groups, such as passing in the corridor, is deemed low risk in the Guidance.

If these small groups cannot be achieved, for example, if there are not enough classrooms to accommodate the number of small groups, schools should discuss this with the local authority.

All employers have a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. This includes conducting and documenting a stress risk assessment. During this period of rapid change and uncertainty, members of staff may be feeling increasingly anxious or stressed at the thought of returning to work. A key way in which schools can seek to reduce the impact of change on members of staff as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is to consult with them in relation to any proposed changes and to ensure that any changes are communicated openly to staff members before they are made. A feedback route could also be developed, for example a staff forum, to give members of staff the opportunity to discuss the impact of any changes and make suggestions.

When members of staff return to work, schools should ensure that workloads are carefully managed. Schools should assess whether staff who are having to stay at home due to health conditions are able to support remote education while other members of staff focus on face-to-face teaching. If necessary, it should be considered whether additional resource could be brought in safely.

Please see our employment and HR briefing for more information, tips and advice.

Hygiene:

  • Schools are advised to encourage regular handwashing for 20 seconds using soap and water and good respiratory hygiene by promoting the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach. Signage could be put up to reinforce these messages and songs or rhymes could be developed to encourage pupils to engage with these measures.
  • Regularly touched surfaces and shared items should be cleaned more frequently with disinfectant. Items that are hard to clean, for example, soft furnishings or soft toys should be removed.

Ventilation:

  • Classrooms should be well ventilated by either opening windows or using ventilation units. Doors should also be propped open where it is safe to do so (bearing in mind fire safety regulations and safeguarding) to limit the use of door handles and to increase ventilation. Schools are also encouraged to consider which lessons could reasonably take place outdoors.

Transport:

  • Parents and pupils are being encouraged to walk or cycle to school as opposed to using public transport were possible. However, local authorities remain under a statutory duty to provide free transport between home and school for eligible children attending school. Local authorities could consider running more vehicles to reduce the number of pupils per vehicle and to allow a greater distance to be maintained between them. Vehicles should be run more regularly so that pupils are able to avoid travelling at peak times and to ensure that the available transport caters for any revised school start and finish times. Local authorities should also ensure that all transport workers follow hygiene guidance and do not come to work if they or a member of their household has developed symptoms of Covid-19. Further guidance is expected regarding travel to and from school.