Roles and responsibilities for health and safety
Church buildings and activities normally associated with a place of worship are generally classed as low risk in terms of health and safety. However, this depends on how well buildings have been maintained and awareness and understanding of any risks with potential to cause injury or harm to anyone working in or using buildings.
Health and safety legislation can be difficult to understand and is often seen as a barrier preventing congregations from undertaking planned work and activities. We know that some organisations have implemented robust health and safety policies and manage the safety risks within their buildings well. We also know that some congregations require additional support and encouragement to ensure that they have the confidence to manage their health and safety responsibilities more effectively.
To introduce or develop congregational arrangements for health and safety, it is necessary to consider two important factors. First, suitable provisions must be in place for health and safety, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the management of health and safety. Second, it is important to develop and implement a health and safety policy that demonstrates the congregation’s commitment to health and safety and how health and safety arrangements will be implemented. The health and safety policy and identified provisions for health and safety provide the foundations for a unique health and safety management system that reflects the buildings used and activities carried out by individual congregations.
This section of the health and safety toolkit will outline:
- the general principles of congregational health and safety
- who is responsible for congregational health and safety
- the roles and responsibility of the Financial Board, and
- how to develop a congregational health and safety policy.
Principles of congregational health and safety
All employers must fulfil a number of obligations to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. Some of these obligations also extend to protecting members of the public, volunteers, contractors and anyone else who might access church buildings. For example, if any buildings are let to other organisations or groups, it is necessary to ensure that the condition of the buildings and any equipment provided are safe and suitable for use.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to:
- Ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare at work of all their employees
- Provide and maintain plans and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
- Ensure that employees can use, handle, store, and transport articles and substances safely and without avoidable risk
- Provide information, instruction, training, and supervision to protect the health and safety of employees
- Provide employees with safe access and egress to their place of work without risk to health
- Provide and maintain a safe working environment which does not present a risk to health and have adequate facilities and arrangements in place for employee welfare at work.
Employers must also ensure that all work activities are carried out in a way that does not pose a risk to the health and safety of anyone not in their employment. This is very important, as churches are places of worship and therefore open to members of the general public.
Employees also have specific duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of other people potentially affected by their actions at work. Employees must also cooperate with their employers to ensure that both they and their employers comply with any legislative requirements relevant to health and safety.
Although the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the principal legislation relevant to health and safety in the UK, congregations must also be aware of a number of other regulations to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and those who use their buildings. These regulations will be explored in more detail in later sections of this toolkit.
Working with employees and volunteers
Employees are individuals who are employed by congregations to undertake specific duties for payment. Volunteers may undertake the same duties of employees; however, they will not be under contract or be paid for their work.
The Minister is not regarded as an employee of the congregation. However, cleaners, organists, administrators, development workers etc. may be classed as employees.
Health and safety legislation generally only applies to employees, and, if at least one person is employed, congregations are expected to comply with all relevant legislation.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance to help organisations that work with volunteers to comply with health and safety legislation. We recommend that congregations implement a single-system approach to health and safety, which means no differentiation between employees and volunteers. This will ensure that everyone who works, volunteers or visits church properties is protected under the same health and safety policies and procedures. Progress through this toolkit will enable these to be developed.
Who is responsible for congregational health and safety?
The charity trustees of a congregation are collectively responsible for ensuring that there are adequate provisions in place for health and safety. This means that no one single person can be held responsible for health and safety. However, should a concern regarding health and safety be raised with the General Trustees, local authority or the HSE, all charity trustees are accountable.
The charity trustees are members of the congregational governing body known as the Financial Board. The Financial Board is also known as the Congregational Board, the Deacon’s Court, the Committee of Management, or the Kirk Session, depending on the constitution of the congregation. For ease, we will refer to the congregational governing body as the Financial Board throughout this toolkit.
Roles and responsibilities of the Financial Board
Members of the Financial Board are responsible for ensuring that all premises under their control, whether or not they are workplaces, are kept as safe as reasonably practicable. They are also responsible for ensuring that all employees, the Minister, members of the congregation, and members of the public are not exposed to avoidable risks with potential to cause them harm.
We recommend that, for practical and administrative purposes, a member of the Financial Board should be appointed as the Congregational Health and Safety Administrator. The post holder will be responsible for ensuring that decisions taken by the Financial Board relevant to health and safety are implemented and that advice contained within this toolkit is considered. The post holder will also have delegated responsibility for:
- Being the recognised person for health and safety matters within the congregation.
- Promoting safe working practices by providing information on health and safety to employees, volunteers, members of the public, and anyone else who might use church properties.
- Working with the Congregational Property Convenor, Presbytery Property Convenor, and Presbytery Health and Safety Coordinator to ensure that all health and safety issues are addressed appropriately.
- Coordinating the completion and maintenance of the health and safety toolkit and records, including risk assessments, utility services inspection records, accident records, food safety and hygiene records, and training records.
- Liaising with individuals and organisations responsible for lets and hires to ensure that health and safety has been considered for the activities undertaken in church property and that congregational health and safety policies are followed.
- Reporting to every meeting of the Financial Board on health and safety matters so that they are assured that there is a suitable system for health and safety in place.
- Seeking advice, help, and support from the General Trustees when required to ensure that the role of Congregational Health and Safety Administrator is fulfilled to the best of their abilities.
This role may already be undertaken by the Fabric Convenor, Fabric Committee, or another member of the congregation. The Financial Board must fully support anyone undertaking this role and provide all the necessary help, assistance, support, and encouragement.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that employers appoint one or more competent persons to help them meet their legal duties for health, safety and welfare of employees. The HSE describes competence as a person’s combined training, skills, experience and knowledge and their ability to perform a task safely. Other factors, such as attitude and physical ability, can also affect someone’s competence.
The requirement to appoint a competent person does not mean that outside help must be recruited. We believe that the best person to advise on congregational health and safety matters is a member of the congregation with knowledge of activities undertaken within church properties. We recommend that the Congregational Health and Safety Administrator also act as the competent person. The information contained within this toolkit will help the Congregational Health and Safety Administrator identify and control risks within properties as well as building confidence and competence to undertake this role.
To which properties does health and safety legislation apply?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to all places where members of the congregation work. Churches are generally places of work because organists, church officers and cleaners work there and a church hall may also be a workplace if, for example, the church officer or cleaner works there.
Manses should not generally be regarded as places of work as they are considered to be residences for Ministers and their families. However, if, for example, a church secretary was to work on a regular basis from a room in the Manse or regular congregational meetings were to take place in the Manse, the Manse must be kept as safe as reasonably practicable. Following and implementing the guidance within this toolkit will enable this to happen.
Developing a congregational health and safety policy
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires all employers to prepare a health and safety policy. If five or more people are employed, this policy must be in writing. As we recommend a single system approach to health and safety (see section 1.2), all Financial Boards should ensure that they have a written health and safety policy.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 does not identify exactly what should be contained within a health and safety policy. However, the policy should refer to three main areas:
- The statement of intent – This should provide a statement of overall congregational commitment to good standards of health and safety and usually includes a reference to compliance with relevant legislation. Whilst the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 only requires the policy to relate to employees, reference should also be made to others who might be affected by relevant activities; for example, contractors, visitors, and volunteers. Congregational commitment to health and safety can be demonstrated by having the Session Clerk and/or other members of the Financial Board sign the policy.
- Organisation – It is important that the roles and responsibilities of the Financial Board and the Congregational Health and Safety Administrator are clearly described within any health and safety policy. If any health and safety responsibilities are delegated to others, this information should also be included.
- Arrangements – How the health and safety policy will be implemented within a congregation and how employees, volunteers, visitors, and anyone else who might be affected by any relevant activities come to know about the health and safety policy should be described.
The principles of congregational health and safety (section 1.1) give a good indication of the information that should be included within the statement of intent and the organisational arrangements outlined in section 2.4 are sufficient to describe congregational roles and responsibilities. An example of a health and safety policy is included in section 7 (templates) of the toolkit and congregations can use or adapt this example to reflect their own specific health and safety requirements.
The health and safety policy is an important document and a copy should be displayed in an area where people can see it. The Financial Board must also make sure that they bring the health and safety policy to the attention of all employees and that they read and understand the policy.
The health and safety policy must also be reviewed at least annually to ensure that the content is up to date and that the roles and responsibilities of the office bearers have not changed. The health and safety policy should also be reviewed when:
- New office bearers are appointed or there is a change to congregational governance arrangements
- New activities are undertaken within church properties
- New equipment is purchased
- A serious accident takes place
- There is a significant change to the outcomes of any risk assessment
- Young people, disabled people, or people whose first language is not English are employed or volunteer
- There is a change in law.
Health and Safety Law at Work poster
The Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 require that all employers display an approved Health and Safety Law at Work poster. A separate poster must be displayed in each property. It is important that the correct version of the poster is displayed prominently within church properties and that the blank spaces have been filled in. If the approved Law at Work poster is not purchased, it is possible to purchase leaflets that contain the same information and these must be provided to all employees. It is recommended that, if the law at work leaflets are purchased, enough copies are bought for all volunteers. Further information can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 describes the basic principles of health and safety and the duties of all employers.
- Although health and safety legislation mainly applies to employees, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also applies to anyone who might be affected by the activities that employers undertake.
- Congregations should not differentiate between employees and volunteers, but instead develop health and safety policies which will apply to everyone who works or volunteers with a congregation and visits church properties. This is known as a single system approach as different health and safety rules are not needed for different people.
- The charity trustees of the congregation (the Financial Board) are collectively responsible and accountable for health and safety.
- Congregations should appoint a Congregational Health and Safety Administrator who will also act as the competent person.
- Health and safety legislation applies to all congregational properties where employees work. The Manse is included if an employee regularly works there.
- Congregations must develop and implement a health and safety policy, to include a statement of intent, organisational structure details and arrangements for health and safety.
- Each property must display an approved HSE health and safety law poster.