Q&A – H&S requirements when providing school work placements

Q: We’re a small contractor that provides work experience placements for schools. The first question they always ask is “Do you have insurance?” They never actually ask about our risk assessments! What is the best way to handle the risks, and to advise the schools?

A: All schools should have the health, safety and welfare of their students as a priority, whilst also wanting to ensure that they avoid litigation and stay on the right side of the law. For many businesses (particularly small ones), this  can potentially become burdensome if it’s not managed appropriately.

You already have risk assessments, and if you employ young people, or apprentices, the more difficult part of the task should already be done as the risk assessments and procedures for young people should already be in place. Work experience providers should use existing arrangements for assessing and managing risks to young people. Repetition of risk assessments is to be avoided, particularly if a new student is of a broadly similar level of maturity and understanding, and has no particular or additional needs.

Work experience placement providers should consider the needs of every student. However, this does not mean that risk assessments and procedures need to be altered for each and every individual, simply because the risks may not have changed enough to warrant it.

Schools are advised that where an employer is known to them and they have a good track record, there is no need to repeat procedures where the student’s needs are no different to those on past placements. However, some students will have specific needs which should be factored into risk assessments and safe working procedures, since construction is a higher-risk sector.

The nature of the work must always be considered when schools provide information about the needs and attributes of students. In some cases, they may provide information which will have a genuine impact upon the student’s ability to carry out the expected tasks in a safe manner. This will need to be reflected in your risk assessments and control measures.

It is vital that a discussion takes place between placement providers and organisers to discuss the student’s physical and psychological capacity and to highlight any particular needs, for example due to any health conditions or learning difficulties.