Click here to generate a text only version of this page
Click here to go to the Birkbeck, University of London home page
Click here for help with using the Birkbeck web site
Health and Safety Services

Safety for Birkbeck Managers

(Find out here in 20 minutes what you need to know and do to manage your area safely)

This guide aims to set out to managers at all levels in Birkbeck what they need to know about safety in their areas and how to put a sound safety management programme into place. It will not dwell on the ground level detail e.g. 'how to handle gas cylinders safely' but on the responsibilities for safety that managers carry in Birkbeck and the basic principles of how to discharge them. All this can be read and taken in within 20 minutes!

  1. Do I have a responsibility for safety?
    Everyone has a legal responsibility for safety but if you are a head of a school/department you have had the specific responsibility for managing safety issues within your area delegated to you by the Governors. Other managers are likely to have had the management of safety for discrete areas delegated to them by their line manager. Governors have declared safety to be a core management function. See: para 1 of the College Safety Statement.

  2. What are my safety duties as a manager of a school/department?
    The Governors have specified the duties of heads of schools and departments in Birkbeck. These are:

    1. Defining clear responsibilities for the management of health and safety including appropriate supervisory arrangements for staff, students and visitors and the appointment of a School safety coordinator and a sufficient number of fire marshals, including deputies, to cover the school's accommodation and adjacent areas.

    2. Not permitting any work to start unless a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks involved in the work has been carried out.This should include the arrangements for staff working in another employer's workplace. This may necessitate obtaining the hazard and risk information from host employers that they are required to provide under Regulation 12 of the Mnagement of Health and Safety Regulations (1999)

    3. After appropriate risk assessments, defining the standards of operation relevant to the degree of risk associated with each operation within any workplace under their control whether the workplace is on or off Birkbeck premises.

    4. Drawing up and circulating to staff and students a safety statement accompanied where necessary by codes of practice regarding the control of hazards in the School.

    5. Providing the resources needed to comply with the requirements and prohibitions that may be imposed by or specified by statutory provisions.

    6. Maintaining awareness within the School of relevant regulations/codes of practice.

    7. Instituting suitable inspection, monitoring and reporting procedures to ensure the requirements of this policy are being met including arranging for "safety" to be a standing agenda item at School meetings.

    8. Promoting, advising and providing training on the practices and procedures to be adopted in health and safety matters relevant to the School. This to include ensuring that all new members of staff receive a safety induction from the Health and Safety Officer within one month of taking up employment as required by Birkbeck staff induction procedure.
      In those Schools containing laboratories or workshops the Head of School is also responsible for:

    9. Making arrangements for periodic safety checks on major mechanical and electrical items of laboratory and workshop equipment.

    10. Appointing, in those Schools using radioactive substances or equipment that can produce ionising radiations, a radiation protection supervisor.

  3. How do I start to carry out all those duties?
    See 2.1 above. Appoint a safety co-ordinator and delegate to him/her. The person chosen must be willing to undertake the work and must be allocated the necessary resources, especially time, to carry them out successfully. The safety co-ordinator must also be strongly supported by the head of school/department to the extent of he/she taking a serious interest in the work of the safety co-ordinator. Ask for regular reports - keep safety as a standing item at school/department meetings.

  4. What training does a safety co-ordinator require?
    Birkbeck Health and Safety Services will provide all the necessary training and advice for safety co-ordinators.

  5. Are there specified duties for safety co-ordinators.
    Safety co-ordinators are in general charge of safety within their schools/departments. They advise heads of school/department on safety matters and act as liaison officers in the exchange of information between their areas and the Health and Safety Officer. Safety co-ordinators assist the head of school/department with 2 (1-10) above. Their duties can be summarised as:

    1. To disseminate information on safety matters within their areas.

    2. To monitor compliance of School personnel with statutory, Birkbeck and school/department safety requirements.

    3. To maintain surveillance for hazards and instigate prompt remedial action at area level and/or alert the Safety Officer.

    4. To oversee that statutory and any other obligations are fulfilled in respect of the safety training of school/department personnel including arranging new staff attend a safety induction session with the Health and Safety Officer within one month of commencing employment.

  6. What specific safety issues have to be managed in my area?
    All issues already identified are addressed in the policy of your school/department - look up your area policy at:

  7. How does the safety co-ordinator ensure that all safety issues have been identified?
    Safety co-ordinators should be monitoring whether new activities that may have associated safety risks are being planned in order that risk assessments are carried out for those new activities if necessary. Also, at the annual safety inspection, the safety co-ordinator is asked to carry out an exercise to identify any new activities in their area using an 'activity checklist'. This exercise also reviews whether current risk assessments for existing activities are up-to-date.

  8. Is my departmental safety management performance measured in any way?
    The safety management performance of all schools and departments is measured annually against 10 key performance indicators (KPIs) and a report is issued to you and your safety co-ordinator indicating whether performance was satisfactory,  reasonable or poor against each KPI.  Your overall performance rating is collated with those of  the other areas and is presented to the Safety Committee and Governors.  See a specimen report here.

  9. What does a Risk Assessment involve?

    1. The Management of Health and Safety Regulations require employers to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of their activities. You would not cross the road (very often) without looking at the traffic conditions and judging about your chances of being run over - that is a risk assessment.  A risk assessment in the school/department involves the following considerations:

    2. What activities does the school/department engage in - See 7 above.

    3. What hazards are associated with the activities - a hazard is the potential to cause harm. e.g. knives and other sharp equipment in kitchens can cut and injure.

    4. What is the likelihood (i.e. the risk) of that hazard materialising? This involves a consideration of how much, how often, for how long, who is involved, how well have they been trained, educated, informed, supervised, what engineering controls are already present e.g. (and keeping with the cuts in the kitchen scenario) - guards on bacon slicers, what maintenance regime is in place and as a last resort what personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary e.g mailed gloves for staff chopping meat?

    5. Any necessary additional controls to those already in place must then be considered, implemented and monitored as necessary along with any additional info or training needed. The risk assessment should be reviewed annually or earlier if a material change takes place such as new staff or equipment, new amounts used etc. A range of risk assessment forms with full guidance is available at:

  10. More paperwork! Does the risk assessment have to be a written document?
    Not if it can be easily understood and repeated - e.g. when crossing the road, look right, left and right again then cross if clear'. If the controls are any more complex then, yes, they should be written down. However, a generic risk assessment covering similar types of work is perfectly acceptable and new risk assessments are not necessary if the safety procedure to be followed is already documented in an existing area code of practice or policy - these are of course the results of earlier risk assessments!

  11. Who carries out the risk assessments?
    Risk assessments should be carried out by the senior person responsible for the activity with the assistance of those involved. e.g. for a scientific procedure, the project supervisor would carry out the assessment, ensure all concerned have seen and understood it and keep it close to hand within the place of work in order that it can be referred to as necessary. The safety co-ordinator checks that the risk assessments have been done.

  12. Where does one obtain the finer detail on a particular safety issue that one might need to help make a correct assessment and draw up an effective set of controls?
    The person making the risk assessment is likely to be the expert in that particular field and already know what will be necessary or where to find the answers. However, Health and Safety Services has access to a wide range of safety information - try there. Health and Safety at Birkbeck is also  in touch with all other safety offices in UK universities by e-mail base. Answers can often be very quickly found from the experiences of others elsewhere.

  13. I am not head of a school or department but I am a manager. What are my safety responsibilities?
    You will have had the responsibility for safety issues within a defined section delegated to you by your head of school/department. Your duties will be a cross between those of the safety co-ordinator and the example of the project supervisor described in (10) above. e.g. You will carry out any necessary risk assessments for your work and check that the staff you are responsible for have carried out theirs if applicable. You will then monitor that relevant safety procedures are adhered to within your section. You will also disseminate any relevant safety information to your staff and arrange for them to receive safety training where codes of practice or risk assessments dictate this is necessary.

  14. In the event of an accident, will I be held personally liable if I got the risk assessment wrong?
    There seems to be an unreasonable level of dread about personal liabilities - especially in relation to getting a risk assessment 'wrong'. The following points should provide reassurance:

    1. Risk Assessment should be a group exercise involving those at risk - the more people consulted the fewer hazards that will be missed.

    2. Report upwards if worried

    3. Seek advice if it's a technical matter

    4. One cannot be held responsible for an event that was not "reasonably foreseeable".

    5. Act within your training/instructions and you should be OK.

    6. Prosecutions are rare for individuals. Staff act as an instrument of their employer and the concept of vicarious liability applies. With regard to a criminal prosecution, should there be shortcomings, staff are highly unlikely to be individually prosecuted, since their defence might be that they had not been adequately trained by their employer. With regard to a civil action, the same holds true with the addition that where monetary recompense is being sought, individuals have far less money than their employer, who will therefore be the more likely target.

  15. Could I avoid any personal liability by not signing risk assessments?

    1. Any individual prosecution is more likely to result from doing/not doing/being in charge of something that, on the facts, was obviously daft or irresponsible.

    2. However, while the piece of signed paper can't make the facts any worse, it just might get one off the hook by demonstrating that effort that had been put into trying to get it right. Whereas, if the facts look bad, not having that signed bit of paper will probably ensure a conviction.

    3. Ensure written risk assessments are issued to those involved. In 1995, a lecturer was prosecuted because his risk assessment was only verbally delivered to a student who was subsequently involved in an accident and later swore that the instruction was not given - since of course he didn't want to look silly for not doing as he had been told.

  16. Is that it?
    Yes, that's all but if you are unclear on any point - contact Health & Safety Services via:

top of page

Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: