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Legal responsibility of governors for health and safety

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Last updated on 26 May 2017
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
What is the governing body's legal responsibility for health and safety? This article sets out governing bodies' key responsibilities for health and safety in maintained schools and academies. It also explains that individual governors are very rarely liable for health and safety in the school.

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  1. 1 Employer has overall responsibility 
  2. 2 Actions for the employer to take
  3. 3 FAQs

Article features

  • 6 external links

Employer has overall responsibility 

Section 6.8.11 of the Governance Handbook explains that the main legislation covering health and safety is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

It also says the employer is responsible for health and safety.

Responsibility in maintained schools

The identity of the employer varies depending on the type of school

The identity of the employer varies depending on the type of school.

Footnote 38 on page 70 of the Governance Handbook explains that the LA is the employer in the following types of schools:

  • Community and community special schools
  • Voluntary controlled schools
  • Maintained nursery schools

Footnote 39 says the governing body is the employer in:

  • Foundation and foundation special schools
  • Voluntary aided schools

Responsibility in academies

Guidance from the National College of Teaching and Leadership (National College) provides an overview of academy models and governance structures.

It explains that in an academy, the academy trust is the legal employer of staff. It has legal responsibility for health and safety in the school.

Multi-academy trusts

The overarching academy trust board has legal responsibility [for health and safety]

We asked the DfE who has the legal responsibility for health and safety in a multi-academy trust (MAT). A representative of the health and safety team explained that the overarching academy trust board has legal responsibility.

Bob Anderson, director of human resources (HR) at the Elliot Foundation MAT, explained that the academy trust may delegate responsibilities to its local governing bodies.

The responsibilities of those local governing bodies are likely to be similar to the responsibilities of a community school's governing body, in that the academy trust would still have the final, overall responsibility for health and safety.

Governing body's oversight of health and safety

Article answers icon

An article from The Key features advice from one of our associate experts on strategies governors can use when overseeing health and safety. Strategies include:

  • Asking members of staff for risk assessments
  • Considering establishing a health and safety key performance indicator (KPI)
  • Ensuring that accidents and ‘near misses’ are being recorded

Actions for the employer to take

Regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 set out in detail the actions employers are required to take.

You will find guidance on these actions in schools in a document published by the DfE.

Where the governing body is the school employer

Page 6 of the DfE's guidance on health and safety explains that the employer in a school:

Must take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and pupils are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

It adds that this applies to activities on or off school premises.

The guidance also refers to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require employers to:

  • Assess the risks to staff and others affected by school activities in order to identify the health and safety measures that are necessary and, in certain circumstances, keep a record of the significant findings of that assessment
  • Introduce measures to manage those risks (risk management)
  • Tell their employees about the risks and measures to be taken to manage the risks
  • Ensure that adequate training is given to employees on health and safety matters

In addition, schools must set out health and safety arrangements in a written health and safety policy.

Page 6 of the guidance also notes that although employers retain responsibility for health and safety, they can delegate tasks to headteachers or other school staff.

Schools must set out health and safety arrangements in a written health and safety policy

Where the LA is the school employer

In schools where the LA is the employer, page 8 of the DfE guidance explains:

... [the LA] may give a direction concerning the health and safety of persons (including pupils) on the school's premises or taking part in school activities elsewhere.

Under section 29(5) of the Education Act 2002, governing bodies of such schools must comply with any such direction from the LA.


Must the governing body approve health and safety documents for school trips?

A governor asked us whether the governing body is required to approve the health and safety documents and plans for a residential school trip.

A representative of the health and safety team at the DfE confirmed that there is no requirement for governing bodies to approve these documents for any school trip. She suggested that approval of plans for school trips is normally delegated to the headteacher.

Must governors receive health and safety training?

The DfE does not require governors to have training on health and safety

The DfE does not require governors to have training on health and safety. Section 4.2 of the Governance Handbook, linked to in section 1, explains:

All boards are responsible for identifying and securing the induction and other ongoing training and development they need ... They should set aside a budget for this purpose.
The board’s code of conduct should set an ethos of professionalism and high expectations of governors, including an expectation that they undertake whatever training or development activity is needed to fill any gaps in the skills they have to contribute to effective governance

Though it is not a statutory duty, your LA or school may offer a health and safety training course. You should contact your LA or clerk to find out whether this is the case for your school and, if so, what the training covers.

Are we required to have a nominated health and safety governor?

The DfE representative said there is no legal requirement for schools to have a nominated governor responsible for health and safety, but it is seen as good practice.

Another article from The Key looks at the role and responsibilities of the nominated health and safety governor. It includes questions the governor might want to ask about health and safety in the school.

Do governors have individual responsibility for health and safety?

It would be very rare for an individual governor to be personally liable

We asked one of our associate education experts Lucinda Bell, an education lawyer, whether nominated governors for health and safety are individually liable.

Lucinda explained:

The legal status of the governing body is that of a corporation: it is a corporate body, separate from its individual members. It would be very rare for an individual governor to be personally liable.

Another article from The Key relays further guidance on liability for school governors.


Lucinda Bell is a senior lawyer specialising in education law. She provides advice to schools and governors, and is also a school governor.

This article was updated in response to a question from a chair of governors.

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