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Risk assessments

Risk assessments must always be undertaken if you are planning practical work with students. As introduced in the previous step, in the UK you must record any significant findings, this could be on a form, annotated in your teacher planner or an adapted worksheet showing health and safety considerations.

The term ‘significant findings’ could be confusing. Simply, it means that if you implement or do something to make an activity safer, for example use a lower concentration of reagent, wear eye protection, ensure naked flames are extinguished, then these should be made a note of on a risk assessment.

A good risk assessment is not complicated, but should help you and those preparing, doing and clearing up a practical activity to do it well, and safely!

Steps for a risk assessment

  1. Identify the hazards involved. Look for warning symbols, draw upon standards and publications, and a bit of common sense!
  2. Assess the risk from the hazard(s), including harm that could be caused from the hazard. How likely is something to go wrong? How serious would it be if it does go wrong? You can use model risk assessments, common sense and national guidance as a starting point.
  3. Reduce the risk of the hazard occurring using control measures if required. Eliminate (do you have to do it?), substitute (is there a safer way?), segregate (do things need to be kept apart?), personal protection (eye protection type?). Adapt model risk assessments to local situation.
  4. Record it. Write the risk assessment down where it can be used.

A point of use risk assessment is the easiest, and most effective way of recording risk assessments for science activities. The outcomes of the risk assessment are recorded where it will be read by the person that it will affect.

In the UK, this method is recommended by the health and safety executive (HSE) and endorses the advice of CLEAPSS and SSERC.

This means that the information is presented where it will be seen and acted on by those who will be at risk, for example technicians, teachers, students, teaching assistants and others (cleaners, parents, visitors, etc.).

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland teachers can rely upon the health and safety guidance published by CLEAPSS, and in Scotland SSERC. If you are from outside the UK you should consult your local school or college health and safety provider.

Every risk assessment also needs to take into account the context you are teaching in. Drawing upon guidance from CLEAPSS and SSERC, you will still need to make judgements about the risks associated with room layout and your group of students. These do not need to be comprehensive, and can be notes on a lesson plan, or on your order form for equipment, such as ‘ensure spills are cleaned up’ if dealing with water.

Identify and share

Find a copy of a risk assessment used in your school or college. List in the comments below the different items that are included on the risk assessment.

Are there any items in other comments that you don’t have? Or items you deliberately don’t include? Reply to these posts with your thoughts.

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre