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FAQs: Risk assessments for PTAs

Carrying out a risk assessment helps you protect visitors from injury and prove that the school and PTA have taken steps to minimise risk in case anything does go wrong.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is the process of identifying potential dangers in a situation and putting measures in place to try and avoid these dangers.

Examples of risks and solutions

Situation: summer fair held on the school field

  • Risk: Electric cables are required for some stalls, and these wires are a trip hazard
  • Preventative measure: Cables across walkways will be avoided where possible and covered with cable protectors if there is no other option

Situation: Bouncy castle at event

  • Risk: Children bouncing into each other may get hurt
  • Preventative measure: Offer separate bouncy castles for different age groups, so bigger children aren't on the same inflatable as the younger ones. Allocate set times for different age groups to play

Situation: Barbecue at event

  • Risk: Visitors or volunteers may get burnt
  • Preventative measure: Fence off the cooking area, ensure an experienced person is running the barbecue and make sure it's never left unattended

Situation: A buffet at an event

  • Risk: Food left out too long may become a food poisoning risk
  • Preventative measure: Keep any food that needs to be refrigerated in the fridge before the event. Make sure it's not left out for longer than four hours and keep it in a cool location away from the sun

Do we have to do a risk assessment?

Health and safety legislation doesn't require those who aren't employers, self-employed or employees to perform risk assessments - this includes voluntary organisations. However, because your PTA is connected to the school, and the event is likely to be held on school premises, it's good practice to assess to ensure everyone is protected. As well as ensuring your visitors are safe, in the unlikely event anything does go wrong, a risk assessment acts as proof to your insurance company that you did your best to prevent the hazard.

Although it may seem like a lot of effort to perform a risk assessment every time you hold an event, new issues often arise, so you should review and update your assessments each time. Updating a risk assessment from a previous year for a recurring event shouldn't prove too time-consuming.

Do I need any specialised training to do a risk assessment?

You don't need specific training to carry out a risk assessment, but it should be done by a competent person. Ask the school if they have a staff member familiar with doing risk assessments who can advise the PTA or do the assessment on its behalf. Otherwise, draw on the expertise of parents - someone will likely have risk assessment experience from their job or other activities. It's advisable to ensure the final risk assessment is approved by the school, particularly if the event is to be held on the school site.

How do I do a risk assessment?

If you don't know where to start, get your committee together and brainstorm potential risks for the event. Take a tour around the venue and observe any potential issues. Two heads are better than one, so take a partner along to help minimise the chance of something being overlooked. Ask the school if you can consult their risk assessment documents as a starting point.

The key to an effective risk assessment is to record significant risks, which the HSE defines as 'those that are not trivial in nature and are capable of creating a real risk to health and safety which and reasonable person would appreciate and would take steps to guard against.' You don't need to include insignificant risks or risks from everyday life. You don't need to take action if the money, time or trouble required to reduce the risk are a lot higher than the level of risk itself.

There is no set way in which you must carry out and record your risk assessment, as long as you are including the relevant information: what the risks are, who is at risk, what you're already doing to control them and what further measures are required. A table is often the easiest method.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also has a range of templates on its website. Download the village hall checklist and classroom checklist to help identify potential issues.

The assessment should be carried out long enough before your event to allow time to implement any protective measures identified.

Once you have recorded all the information you need, circulate a copy to everyone who is helping with the event, i.e. the organising committee and any helpers from the wider parent body. This way, everyone knows what has been considered and what action needs to be taken.

What risks might there be in a PTA setting?

Your risk assessment should cover all groups of people who might be harmed by your event. In a PTA setting, this could be volunteers and visitors, including children and young people. In a volunteer environment, people are likely to be performing tasks at which they are inexperienced, and this should be taken into account and the risks minimised. When it comes to protecting children, if you are unsure, talk to the school about any strategies and approaches they have in place. Bear in mind the risks involved in your particular school. Speak to the school to find out if there's anything you need to take into consideration.  

How often should we check our risk assessments?

Each time you hold an event, amend the risk assessment to reflect any changes to the venue or the occasion. For each new event, a new risk assessment should be performed.

As PTA committees change over so frequently, it's wise for new committee members to be able to see previous risk assessments. Put them into your handover pack and pass on to the next committee.

For more information, templates and interactive risk assessment tools, visit the Health and Safety Executive website.


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