Safety Help from our District Councils
Where can I get help?
Your local Environmental Health Officer or Safety advisor who work for your Local Authority, contact details for your area are
- Eden District Council, Environmental Services, Mansion House, Penrith, CA11 7YG, Phone 01768 817817
- Allerdale Borough Council, Allerdale House, Workington, Cumbria, CA14 3YJ. Phone 01900 702702
- Barrow Borough Council, Town Hall, Duke Street, Barrow-In-Furness, Cumbria,LA14 2LD, Phone 01229 876300
- Carlisle City Council, Civic Centre, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA3 8QG Phone 01228 817000
- Copeland Borough Council, The Copeland Centre, Catherine Street, Whitehaven, Cumbria, CA28 7SJ, Phone 0845 054 8600
- South Lakeland District Council, South Lakeland House, Lowther Street, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4DQ, Phone 0845 050 4434
Health and Safety law – does it apply to churches and church halls?
Anyone with control of a non – domestic premises (such as a place of worship or church hall) has legal responsibilities under the health and safety law to take reasonable measures to ensure the church or hall, access to it and any equipment or substances provided are safe for people using it, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the church or hall is usually organised by the owner or by a voluntary management committee, such as a Parochial Church Council (PCC).
Reasonably Practicable – What does that mean?
The law does not expect those in control of a premises or employers to eliminate all risk, but they are required to protect people as ‘reasonably practicable’. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in terms of money, time and trouble.
The owner’s legal responsibilities
The owner, for example the church, a community association, charitable trust, or local authority, is likely to have health and safety duties(and fire safety duties) for those who use the building where they still have control over it. For example they should keep it in good repair, and have appropriate fire precautions in place.
The Management Committee legal responsibilities
A management committee such as a Parochial Church Council (PCC) can be regarded as a legal entity under health and safety law, even if it does not employ anyone and is only made up of volunteers. It has no responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act for risks created by the work activity of others, such as contractors used to maintain the building, or for the activities organised by those who use the church or hall.
However, where a management committee (PCC) has control over a church or hall, they should take reasonable measures to ensure that the building, and any equipment or substances provided there, are safe for the purposes visitors are expected to use them for.
Where more than one person is a member of the management committee (PCC) or organisation has control over a building, they will have joint responsibility.
The Users responsibilities
Users such as playgroups, schools, private individuals etc have responsibilities for managing risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, arising from their own activities when they have control of the premises or control of the equipment on the premises.
How do civil law and health and safety law apply?
Understanding which type of law applies
Concerns often arise when people confuse civil law obligations with an organisation’s duties under health and safety law.
This page clarifies the differences between the two types of law and how health and safety law applies to voluntary organisations such as a PCC or hall committee.
Civil law and the duty of care
Under the common law, voluntary organisations and individual volunteers have a duty of care to each other and others who may be affected by their activities. Where something goes wrong, individuals may, in some cases, sue for damages using the civil law if they are injured as a result of another person’s negligence.
But, for a negligence claim to succeed, the injured person must show that the defendant had a duty to take reasonable care towards them, and they have suffered the injury through a breach of that duty. The injured person must also show that the type of loss or injury for which damages are being claimed was a foreseeable result of the breach of the duty.
Liability in individual cases is a matter for the courts, depending on all the circumstances of the case and the actions and standards it is reasonable to expect from each of the parties involved. If the court decides that a particular claim does not have merit, then it will reject it. It can also reduce any damages awarded to reflect the extent of any contributory negligence on the part of the injured person.
Health and safety law
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) is criminal law aimed at protecting employees and others who may be affected by work activities Health and safety legislation does not, in general, impose duties upon someone who is not an employer, self-employed or an employee. It is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or in the case of places of worship, the local authority such as your District Council.
It is not possible to sue for damages under the HSW Act itself although a breach of health and safety regulations may be cited as part of a civil claim for compensation based on a breach of statutory duty.
HSE and local authority health and safety officers have no power to investigate incidents or pursue enforcement action in relation to most purely voluntary activities, but there are limited exceptions such as where a volunteer is in control of non-domestic premises eg a church or hall.
When health and safely law applies
As previously stated, anyone in control of non domestic premises, for example a management committee / PCC, has responsibilities under health and safety law and must take reasonable steps to ensure the premises and any equipment or substances provided there are safe for the purposes visitors are expected to use them for. If someone is employed, then this will introduce wider responsibilities under health and safety law.
The HSW Act sets out the general duties that employers have towards employees. It also requires employers and the self-employed to protect people other than those at work (eg members of the public, volunteers, clients and customers) from risks to their health and safety arising out of, or in connection with, their work activities.
The HSW Act and the regulations made under it apply if any organisation, including a voluntary organisation such as a PCC has at least one employee. The Act refers to employers and the self-employed as ‘duty holders’.
In most cases, the PCC have no employees however if you do employ for example a cleaner, caretaker or grounds man, to help you with understanding what you need to do there is a step by step guide http://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/index.htm
The law requires employers and the self employed to carry out a risk assessment of their work activities. Only where there are 5 or more employees is it necessary to write your findings down. In the vast majority of PCC’s written risk assessments are therefore, not legally required. However, even though there may be no requirement to record an assessment, it is useful to do so and can help to demonstrate that health and safety is being considered and managed.
Risk assessments are not about creating lots of paperwork but rather about identifying sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks that may arise in the church or hall setting and so are a useful tool in deciding if you need to do more to manage health and safety.
To help you the HSE have prepared a sample risk assessment for halls http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/villagehall.pdf
and there is a simple checklist which can also be applied to churches http://www.hse.gov.uk/voluntary/assets/docs/village-hall.pdf
What could go wrong in a church or hall?
Generally, places of worship are safe, however, there can be some hazardous areas or activities that pose a risk to health or of accidents. Below are some of the hazards you should think about when considering health and safety in your church or hall.
· Slips, trips and falls from a height or down a drop that could cause injury eg access to the bell tower, cellars, balconies. Light levels, handrails, unguarded drops, rotten floorboards etc
· Electrical faults due to old wiring or damaged appliances/heaters/sound equipment.
· Asbestos http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/managing/intro.htm it is a legal requirement to identify any asbestos in a non domestic building and put in place a plan to manage it if you find any.
· Maintenance activities on the building and church yards eg use of ladders for gutter clearing/changing light bulbs http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg405.pdf, use of strimmers, mowers on steep banks, unstable ground for grave digging http://www.eden.gov.uk/health/health-and-safety-at-work/grounds-maintenance-safety/
· falling headstones, unstable trees or the collapse of stacked furniture/display boards.
· Manual handling eg moving trestle tables or display boards
· Harmful substances eg use of weedkillers, breathing in dusts contaminated by pigeon droppings/bat droppings in roof spaces.
Do I need to report accidents?
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurences Regulations (as amended) RIDDOR, place a duty on employers, the self employed or others in control of work premises to report certain accidents and incidents that arise out of or in connection with work. If a contractor has an accident whilst on your premises it is generally their responsibility to report it if necessary. Further guidance is available at http://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/what-must-i-report.htm
These Regulations were amended in April 2012.
Your insurance company has produced a helpful document for you to manage and record your health and safety findings which in available on the link below
There are also a variety of other useful health and safety documents on their website at: https://www.ecclesiastical.com/churchmatters/churchguidance/churchhealthandsafety/index.aspx