Spot checkers calling to review schools’ covid procedures are not health and safety experts.
Schools Week understands this has heightened unions’ concerns that the calls are going to put additional strain on school staff during coronavirus.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is carrying out spot checks over the phone to review school’s measures taken for reopening and “to minimise spread of the virus causing covid-19”.
When the initial call raises concerns about a school’s approach, it will be referred for “further intervention”, which may include a visit to the school.
But Hayley Dunn, business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the call handlers are “not experts in health and safety and therefore for the most part must be working to a script”.
It is understood that the calls have been contracted to private firm Civica.
“The initial stage is the ‘spot check’, whereby the HSE has a call centre undertaking telephone interviews with the most appropriate person in school,” she said.
Responses are then “triaged and where there are concerns about assurance an assessment is made”.
While inspectors are health and safety experts, but “not necessarily education sector specific experts”, Dunn added.
“Their aim is to inspect a wide demographic of schools, which will include some of those where a spot check has raised concerns, but others too.
“It is important that schools engage in the process as the HSE continues to have responsibility under the regulatory framework to ensure that employers abide by the Health and Safety at Work Act.”
Writing for Schools Week, Dunn also said the issue of how HSE representatives and inspectors “identify themselves is vitally important in order to enable schools to verify they are who they say they are.
“There are many scams and cold calls happening and some of them are very plausible. We have raised this with HSE and been assured that processes are being put in place.”
HSE said in its bulletin published earlier this month: “We appreciate that guidance is being updated regularly, and schools are working hard to respond to the changes. HSE inspectors are experienced at applying professional judgement and discretion and will seek to take a proportionate approach, focussing on what is reasonable and achievable in an evolving situation.
“We know that schools want to do the right thing and are working extremely hard to put in place safety measures. Most of the time we anticipate advice from our inspectors will be enough to resolve the issues that we find, but if inspectors encounter serious risks, they will take enforcement action to ensure people’s health and safety is protected.”
A HSE spokesperson said it was carrying out checks “as soon as possible” to access how the Covid guidance is being implemented “as it enables advice and support to be given to individual schools and will help them manage this new risk, keeping staff, pupils and others safe”.
They added: “We appreciate that guidance is being updated regularly, and schools are working hard to respond to the changes. HSE inspectors are experienced at applying professional judgement and discretion and will seek to take a proportionate approach in an evolving situation.”
*This story was updated on September 17