Background to the Toolkit

The Church of Scotland General Trustees were established in 1921 to hold properties and investments for the church as a whole. The trustees are appointed by the General Assembly to undertake a variety of duties, including authorising sales and lets of property, vetting alterations at buildings, assisting local congregations with maintenance and improvement work, and giving financial assistance in a number of ways.

As the trustees have a vested interest in Church of Scotland properties, it is only natural that they have an interest in how safely the buildings are used and maintained. In 2015, the trustees started the process of identifying how well health and safety is understood within congregations and investigating levels of compliance. A questionnaire was sent to every congregation and a number of key themes were identified:

  • 46% of congregations replied that they did not have a health and safety policy
  • 42% of congregations replied that they did not have a readily available fire safety risk assessment (FSRA)
  • There was a lack of awareness and understanding of congregational roles and responsibilities regarding the presence of asbestos within congregational properties
  • The majority of congregations stated that they were unsure the last time their fixed electrical wiring systems had been tested

In 2016, the General Trustees appointed a Safe Buildings Consultant to review the findings of this questionnaire and make recommendations for improvement. During this time, formal enforcement action was taken by a local authority environmental health department against a Church of Scotland congregation concerning non-compliance with food safety legislation. The Safe Buildings Consultant wrote to all presbyteries in 2016 asking for information regarding food safety activities and food hygiene training, and we found that:

  • 63% of congregations who handle and prepare food did not provide food hygiene training
  • 72% of congregations who handle and prepare food did not have a food safety management system in place

The General Trustees considered all of the evidence from both questionnaires and commissioned the development of this health and safety toolkit. Whilst we know that some congregations have taken steps to ensure that they are compliant with all legal requirements for health and safety, we also know that some congregations are not aware of their roles and responsibilities, and health and safety is not considered a priority. The purpose of this toolkit is to provide every congregation with workable, proportionate, and risk-based advice regarding what should be considered when thinking about health and safety within their properties. Health and safety should not be considered a burden or hindrance, but an essential element of properly maintaining, using, and promoting congregational properties.

Structure of the Health and Safety Toolkit

The health and safety toolkit is separated into seven parts and provides an elementary guide to the main safety risks within properties. The toolkit is designed to be a "live document", which means that the General Trustees will provide regular updates to changes in health and safety legislation and best practice. The main content of the toolkit is summarised in Box 1A.

  1. Introduction - Describes the structure and content of the toolkit and how to use the toolkit to improve health and safety within properties
  2. Organising - Describes the roles and responsibilities of the Financial Board for health and safety
  3. Risk Management - Describes the reasons for and how to carry out risk assessments within properties and how to be sure that adequate controls are in place to prevent the risk of harm
  4. Fire Safety - Describes the process of fire safety risk assessments and the factors which must be considered to prevent the risk of fires within properties
  5. Food Safety - Describes the principles of storing, handling, preparing, and serving food safely within properties
  6. Utilities - Describes how to control the risks associated with gas and electricity supply and action which must be taken to ensure that services are safe to use
  7. Templates - Provides model templates for use when considering health and safety issues within properties

How to use the Toolkit

The toolkit is designed so that anyone can go straight to any particular section and use the subject-specific information in that section straight away. However, the General Trustees recommend that some time be dedicated to reading the toolkit from the very beginning to enable a greater understanding of what is expected from all Church of Scotland congregations regarding health and safety.

The toolkit can also be used to collect relevant information on health and safety issues within properties. For example, copies of risk assessments, electrical inspections and reports, and asbestos management plans should be inserted into the relevant sections of the toolkit. This will ensure that all relevant information is to hand when required and will help the Financial Board to monitor progress with their responsibilities.

Health and Safety Administrator

In Part 2 of the toolkit, the General Trustees recommend that all congregations appoint a Health and Safety Administrator to assist the Financial Board with health and safety. This is a non-executive role and the post holder will be responsible for coordinating health and safety activities within their properties. We know that some congregations have appointed health and safety officers and this new role should not detract from any delegated responsibilities already in place. However, every congregation should appoint at least one individual to fulfil the role of Health and Safety Administrator.

Toolkit Updates

The toolkit provides a general overview of health and safety for Church of Scotland congregations. The toolkit is not meant to be a definitive guide in all matters related to health and safety and there may be some need to seek additional advice and guidance. The General Trustees are available to provide you with additional expert advice, guidance and support.

The General Trustees will provide regular updates to reflect the changing requirements of health and safety. We will send emails to all appointed health and safety administrators and we will use a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to signpost when new information has been added to the toolkit. We will also expand on various sections of the toolkit and develop additional templates to assist Financial Boards with their duties.

Comments and Feedback

We hope that you will find the toolkit an asset and helpful in understanding your duties to health and safety within your properties. We actively encourage feedback on the content and structure of the toolkit and any suggestions for future updates will be gratefully received.

All comments and suggestions can be submitted by email to Brian Auld, Safe Buildings Consultant at or by telephone on 0131 225 5722.