Keep your school safe

  • 9th July 2024

Craig McLaughlin provides key information about managing risk and health and safety hazards when employing contactors


Contractors are hired for a wide range of reasons in an education environment, whether it be to complement the duties of your own staff or to complete specialist jobs that often involve more dangerous work.

Preventing accidents not only saves time, money and resources but most importantly can saves lives.

What are my legal responsibilities when I hire contractors? 

If you employ contractors, you have a legal responsibility and duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act. This is to protect your staff, pupils and visitors while the contractor carries out its activities.

You are also responsible for the safety of any construction personnel under the Health and Safety Regulations. In addition, to obligations under the Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced invaluable advice around the CDM Regulations, including clearly identifying the responsibilities for each person involved in a construction project.

It’s important to note that where work is planned to exceed any of the following, you must notify the HSE of the project:

  • It lasts longer than 30 working days.
  • It has more than 20 workers on-site at the same time during any part of the project.
  • The project exceeds 500 person days in total.

You can find more information on how and when to inform the HSE at: 

As an ‘employer’ of contractors what else do I need to know? 

An ‘employer’ of contractors has quite a few duties under CDM Regulations. Many of these responsibilities need to be completed before any work begins at your school/education establishment. This doesn’t mean you or your school needs to manage the project, but you do need to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place for managing the works.

Your main duties as the ‘employer’ under CDM is to:

  • Ensure that suitable management arrangements are made for the project.
  • Select and appoint a competent principal designer.
  • Select and appoint a competent principal contractor.
  • Where a project is notifiable, the employer must give notice in writing to the HSE.
  • Ensure sufficient time and resources must be allocated.
  • Ensure all work can be carried out without risks to health or safety.
  • Provide the pre-construction information to the designers and contractors.
  • Ensure that the principal designer produces and health and safety file. As the project progresses, ensure the file is regularly reviewed and updated.
  • Ensure that welfare facilities are provided.
  • Ensure the necessary information, instruction and training is received and appropriate supervision is provided.

What if my work does not fall under the CDM criteria? 

Even when the work does not fall under the CDM criteria, ‘employers’ still have a duty of care. You are expected to complete risk management duties to protect yourself, the contractors, staff, pupils and visitors. Contractors also have health and safety responsibilities, but they differ to those held by employers.

You will need to make sure that all contractors have the skills, knowledge, training and experience to complete required tasks safely and effectively. Contractors’ health and safety policies and procedures should be checked. A documented process of due diligence to assist in the selection of contractors would help ensure their competence.

We would recommend that you consider:

  • Appointing contractors that are members of trade and professional associations.
  • Asking for testimonials and references.
  • Checking the HSE website for previous and current enforcement action against an organisation.
  • Completing other regulatory checks such as safeguarding.
  • Check driving licences, which is an essential part of the due diligence process.

The principal contractor’s insurance cover needs to be validated. Check that the period of insurance covers the work to be undertaken and the type of work being completed. Check that the levels of insurance indemnity are sufficient.

Appoint an individual within your management team to liaise with the principal contractor daily. Address immediately if you have any concerns over the contractors’ competency, effectiveness or lack of safety measures.

The principal contractor must make all contractors on-site aware of their health and safety responsibilities via a formal site induction. The induction should include:

  • Site access control procedures
  • Sign in/sign out requirements.
  • Fire drills and emergency arrangements.
  • Accident reporting requirements.
  • Shared facilities.
  • Authorisations for operating plant.
  • Welfare and first aid facilities.

As the contractor’s ‘employer’, you are responsible for monitoring the health and safety performance of the principal contractor (and the project) throughout the duration of the works. The appropriate level of monitoring will vary depending on the circumstances of the work.

A lot of ‘employers’ are unaware of their supervisory requirements. Many don’t realise that if they noticed a contractor doing something potentially dangerous, and had the opportunity to stop or prevent it but failed to do so, they can be held partially or fully liable for any injury or loss. This could result in civil and/or criminal legal action taken against them.

Are there any other requirements I need to consider if my school is open while contractors are working?

Segregate contractors from pupils as much as possible. Eliminate opportunities for construction site access by anyone not authorised to enter. Segregation can be achieved by physical means or by time, or by a combination of both. For larger construction projects lasting several weeks, physical separation should be achieved by the contractors working within secure and clearly defined areas behind fencing, hoardings, and barriers where pupils are excluded for routine health and safety concerns.

Ensure that no pupil is left on his/her own with contractors by providing suitable supervision. The requirement to supervise could be limited to specific times when contact is likely to occur, such as at break times, class changeover times, and at the beginning and at the end of the school day. It’s not necessary to monitor the building works themselves, only the contacts that might take place between contractors and pupils.

Agree access times to the premises for both contractors and deliveries, and insist contractors adhere to a code of conduct. A suggested code of conduct for contractors would be to:

  • Avoid contact with children.
  • Never be in contact with children without school supervision.
  • Stay within the agreed work area and access routes.
  • Obtain permission if you need to go outside the agreed work area or access routes.
  • Keep staff informed of where you are and what you are doing.
  • Don’t use profane or inappropriate language.
  • Dress appropriately – shirts to be worn at all times.
  • Observe the code at all times.

Remember that actions, no matter how well intentioned, could be misinterpreted. 


Contractors in school or educational establishment pose a variety of risks. Many accidents and incidents involving contractors and subcontractors occur because of:

  • Poor planning.
  • Failure to ensure contractors adhere to the school’s health, safety and/or safeguarding procedures.
  • Failure to monitor and supervise their work to make sure that they are following the health and safety rules.

It is essential that contractors are trained, controlled, prepared and equipped for both the job they are performing and the environment where they are working to avoid accidents to themselves, staff, pupils or visitors.

HSE data shows the top five causes of accidents in the workplace as:

1) Slips, trips and falls,

2) Handling, lifting or carrying,

3) Being struck by a moving object,

4) Falls from height and

5) Acts of violence.

The Health and Safety Executive provides invaluable guidance on these occupational hazards:

  • Working from height.
  • Being struck by moving objects.
  • Slips, trips and falls.
  • Asbestos
  • Permits to work.

Craig McLaughlin is a risk consultant for advisor RSA Risk Consulting.

Craig McLaughlin

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