Do your school’s Christmas decorations really need risk assessing?

It might seem like Health & Safety gone mad, but if you are decorating your school for Christmas, specific tasks will need risk assessing.

That is not to say you need to go overboard and start conducting risk assessments for every single string of tinsel, but below are some important Health & Safety considerations if you are decking the halls this Christmas.

Christmas trees

  • Make sure Christmas trees are not blocking fire escape routes or the exits from any rooms and buildings.
  • Do not place trees near ignition sources or decorate them with lit candles. Although real and artificial trees are both flammable, this is particularly pertinent for the former.
  • The condition of your Christmas lights will deteriorate over time, which in turn increases the risk of sparks. To ensure they do not become a potential fire hazard, remember to carry out regular visual inspections.

School buildings

  • If you are pinning Christmas decorations to walls and/or ceilings, have you considered if there is potential for asbestos to be present? If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, asbestos fibres could be released which, if inhaled, can cause serious diseases.
  • If your school uses tube lighting, do not just drape decorations over them. The added weight could result in the light becoming dislodged, falling, smashing, and injuring pupils, employees or visitors.

Protecting your pupils and employees

  • Manual handling: will anyone be required to carry awkward and/or heavy boxes of decorations around? If so, make sure they follow safe manual handling practices at all times.
  • Working at height: if you are hanging decorations up high, ensure it is done safely and with the support of others – that means not dangling from wobbly chairs!
  • If you are letting children help put decorations up, carefully consider any additional risks involved, and put extra control measures in place if necessary.

Combustibles

  • Do not hang tinsel, paper snowflakes and fairy lights near faulty electricals, and bear in mind the fairy lights themselves could be the faulty electrical.
  • If there are likely to be naked flames (e.g. from Bunsen burners in science laboratories) surrounding your decorations, make sure you consider the added risk of nearby combustibles.

Decorating outdoors

  • If you are decorating any outdoor areas (e.g. the school playground), be aware of hazardous, adverse weather conditions, and how they can present risks
  • If it is cold, make sure employees and pupils are wearing a coat
  • If it is windy, make sure someone is holding ladders whenever they are being mounted
  • Ensure appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is always be worn
  • Employees and pupils should be supervised, whatever the task.

The above suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but they should give you a good idea of the types of activities that require a risk assessment.

The risk assessment

Looking at the actual risk assessment itself, here are some of the hazards and existing controls your school should have in place:

HazardWho could be harmed?Existing controls
• Combustible materials
• Build-up of combustible materials
• Poor storage within the vicinity of ignition points
All employees, pupils and visitors, and those in the surrounding buildings/rooms if the fire gets out of control• Everyone should be aware of your fire procedures
• Combustible materials should be stored correctly
• No naked flames to be used in the area (e.g. Bunsen burners in a science laboratory)
• Provision of appropriate firefighting equipment
• Routine safety checks should be conducted.
• Electrical faults that lead to fires or electric shocksAll employees, pupils and visitors, and those in the surrounding buildings/rooms if the fire gets out of control• Ensure only competent people carry out maintenance on electrical appliances
• Make sure your plugs are not overloaded
• Stick to regular PAT Testing
• Check all your electrical equipment is fit for purpose
• Have a clear first aid procedure in place.
• Fires caused by a naked flame
• Faulty electrical equipment
• Systems, arson, explosion or chemical means
Pupils, employees, and visitors• Make sure your fire exits are not obstructed
• Train all employees on good housekeeping techniques
• All fire wardens should receive instructions on how to use fire extinguishers
• Display fire exit signs at the nearest and safest final exit to outside
• Keep up with routine fire alarm testing.
• Obstruction of fire exit
• Escape routes not clear for safe evacuation
Pupils, employees, and visitors• Routinely check your fire exit routes
• Check that reporting procedures are being followed
• Make sure everyone is sticking to your good housekeeping practices.
• Poor housekeeping, resulting in slips, trips and fallsPupils, employees, and visitors• Train all employees on good housekeeping techniques, and make sure everyone is following them
• Carry out routine safety checks
• Ensure all areas are kept clear.
• Obstruction of fire exit
• Escape routes not clear for safe evacuation
Pupils, employees, and visitors• Do not pierce any walls or ceilings that contain asbestos
• Ensure all employees check with the duty holder about if, and where, asbestos is located
• Provide employees with termly reminders about asbestos
• Check that asbestos messages are reflected in your school’s asbestos management plan.

These are just a handful of the existing controls your school should have in place. If you are a Citation client, you can see the full list of controls needed by searching for our ‘decorating an office for seasonal events’ risk assessment in Atlas.

If you are not yet a client and have any questions around your Health & Safety responsibilities over the festive season, contact the Citation team today on 0345 844 1111 or epm@citation.co.uk.

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