How to safely put up school displays

Displays are one of the first things that people see when they walk around a school.

Inspiring curiosity, showcasing pupils’ work, and providing practical advice, displays play a significant role in creating a positive and vibrant learning environment.

It is important that you take measures to ensure that displays are always put up safely, particularly given that falls from desks, chairs and ladders account for a large portion of major injuries in schools.

The risk

Employees, pupils and visitors could all be harmed during the assembly of displays, and afterwards if they are not fitted correctly.

The main dangers come from:

  • The use of incorrect equipment to get higher up, e.g. using chairs, stools and desks when commercial ladders are required
  • Not considering the surface that the display is being mounted upon – this may not be secure itself, or could contain asbestos
  • Attempting to put up displays independently when more than one person is required
  • Objects falling onto people below as displays are being fitted
  • Falls from working at height, e.g. overreaching causing the ladder to topple, or the object that is being stood on breaking or being unstable
  • Pupils walking into a ladder and causing it to topple.

Working at height

Defined as work where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you: work above ground/floor level and could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface.

The Work at Height Regulations (2005) apply to duty holders and outline a hierarchy of control measures that should be followed systematically, with the next level only considered when one level is not reasonably practicable.

Duty holders must:

  1. Avoid work at height when possible
  2. Use suitable equipment to prevent falls
  3. Use suitable equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall

You should always consider collective protection (measures that protect everyone at risk, e.g. temporary guardrails or scaffolding) before personal protection (measures that only protect the individual carrying out the work).

Use suitable equipment

All equipment that is used to put up displays should be fit for purpose, with pre-use checks and inspections carried out.

Avoid using stools, chairs and desks and instead use commercial ladders if required; working at height should only be done by competent employees with the right skills, knowledge and training.

If you are using ladders, there are some specific Health & Safety considerations to be made. Here are some important do’s and don’ts to bear in mind:

Ladder do'sLadder don'ts
Isolate areas when ladders are in useUse defected ladders before they are repaired or replaced
Place steps and ladders on a firm level surfaceCarry heavy bulk loads up and down ladders
Ensure appropriate footwear is worn, e.g. no dangling lacesUse a ladder for periods longer than short duration work (e.g. 30 minutes)
Carry out regular and pre-use ladder checks, ensuring you keep records of previous inspectionsRest a ladder against weak surfaces, e.g. plastic gutters or glazing
Store ladders securelyKeep damaged ladders in the workplace

Careful planning

Every school needs to have its own Health & Safety policies so that everyone knows what procedures to follow to carry out activities safely. These will contain individual policies on areas such as manual handling, fire risk assessments, and risk assessments, each of which will play a crucial role in ensuring displays are fit in a safe manner.

Carrying out a risk assessment will help to identify any potential risks to the safety of your school, employees and premises, allowing you to take actions accordingly to reduce or eliminate those risks.

In particular, you may need to review your fire risk assessments. For example, you need to ensure that the performance of fire alarms will not be affected by display work, as well as checking that fire exit routes have not been blocked.

Before fitting displays, it is also important to ensure that you have an asbestos safety management policy in place. This should be communicated to all employees, so that they know where there are asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in your school. If ACMs are disturbed, asbestos fibres could be released, which can cause potentially fatal diseases when inhaled (and pupils are particularly vulnerable to this risk due to the long latency of these diseases).

Further best practice

A risk assessment will allow you to identify the specific precautions and adjustments that you should take, but here are some further control measures that you might consider:

  • Restricting displays to head height where practical
  • Ensuring display boards are accessible
  • Providing a kick stool for users to access display areas safely
  • Preparing displays as far as possible before putting them up
  • Putting in place a reporting procedure for identified defective items with prompt removal/ remedial action
  • Installing a washing line style assembly, using pulleys which can be raised and lowered from ground level
  • Evaluating your school’s room layouts to ensure that display boards are easily accessible.

Citation can help

Our sister company, Citation, have more than 20 years’ experience supporting education leaders to keep their schools, pupils, employees and visitors safe.

Their online safety management platform, Atlas, gives you access to around 100 school-specific risk assessment templates, as well as an ever-growing list of online training modules to ensure that your employees are competent and on top of the latest legislative changes.

You will also get around-the-clock access to their Health & Safety experts through their 24/7 advice line, and they are so confident of the Health & Safety advice they give, they guarantee it.

If you have questions on anything covered in this article or want to learn more about Citation, please contact their expert team on 0345 844 1111 or by emailing epm@citation.co.uk.

Find out more about how Citation can support your school, academy and trust with Health & Safety.

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