Health and safety
The charity trustees of the congregation are responsible for not only the buildings under their control but also health and safety issues. It should be noted that this is collective responsibility which falls on all trustees, acting as trustees.
It is a good idea to task one or two people with the practicalities of health and safety matters. It is, however, important that they feel they have the support of their fellow trustees at all times. They should not feel they have been left to shoulder the responsibility alone. It is recommended that health and safety be included as a standing item on meeting agendas.
Potential risks in the premises
Ideally, a group of trustees will make a tour of inspection of their premises, and write down a list of points which could be seen as health and safety issues. These might include:
- frayed carpets or rugs which could cause a trip
- fire safety – are there enough fire exits and are they kept unblocked at all times?
- gas appliances – are they safe and checked annually?
- whether safeguards are in place if anyone has to work at height, such as changing a lightbulb in a difficult-to-access light fitting
- The kitchen can be a fertile source of potential health and safety issues. Are there guidelines easily visible about keeping raw and cooked foods separate, washing hands before handling food etc., and has anyone undergone a basic food hygiene course?
- Is there any asbestos in the building? An asbestos management plan will be required.
- persons working alone in the building
- whether appropriate signage is in place – for example, warnings about roof spaces which are not strong enough to take the weight of an individual
Particular consideration should be given to areas used by frail or vulnerable people, such as small children.
Once the trustees have identified potential risks, the next step is to write down what is to be done about them. Once the trustees have decided what the best course of action is to prevent an incident, they must, of course, ensure that the necessary action is carried out and keep a record of the action taken, and the date. The law states that trustees must take steps to ensure health and safety "so far as reasonably practicable". Provided trustees can show that they have considered the level of risk and taken appropriate steps, that should be sufficient.
In case of an accident
If an accident with health and safety implications were to occur, such as a fall which could easily have been prevented, the investigating body will be the local authority. It is important that the trustees are able to produce evidence that health and safety was considered, and appropriate action taken. Such evidence might take the form of items noted in Kirk Session minutes, an accident book which is kept up to date, checklists for events, etc.