Every school is going to require maintenance work now and then. In an ideal world, this work would always be done during school holidays. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world, and occasionally it is necessary for this work to be done during term time, which means having to factor in the safety of students and staff, as well as coordinating the work so that it causes the least amount of disruption.
School councils have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for students, staff, and contractors. By not fulfilling these obligations, you not only put people on the premises at risk of being injured, but if – touch wood – an accident should occur, you also open yourself up to the possibility of a lawsuit – not to mention a PR nightmare.
So how do you make sure you’re satisfying your legal requirements, while coordinating hundreds of people, including students, staff and contractors? Here are our top 3 tips for avoiding a PR disaster when onboarding a contractor.
1. Have a rigorous onboarding procedure
When onboarding a contractor, there is a lot of ground that needs to be covered to ensure everyone is on the right page from the word go. Let’s start with the basics:
- What work needs to be carried out, and where?
- What is the timeline of the project?
- How the work will be carried out
Then look at logistics, such as:
- How many workers and subcontractors will be on the site
- Where can the workers park
- Where can workers go to the bathroom and take breaks
- Where and how workers should sign in and obtain visitor’s badges to wear while on the premises
Then there are the ever-important safety and risk management issues (more on this below).
Then you’ve got to ensure all the necessary paperwork has been accounted for. For example, does the contractor have:
- A copy of the school’s health and safety policy?
- Their own comprehensive workplace health and safety policy?
- Current public liability insurance that covers the work on hand?
- Current professional indemnity insurance (if they are contractors that provide advice, such as engineers or architects)?
- High Vis - Easily identifiable uniforms?
It can be useful to have an onboarding checklist to guide your discussions with the contractor. This not only keeps the discussion focused, but also helps to ensure that you don’t forget any crucial details. Take copious notes, and then, following the discussion, immediately type up the agreed-upon arrangements into a comprehensive onboarding document. Have the contractor look over this document and, if they’re satisfied, have both parties sign it to confirm you and the contractor have a complete understanding of what is required.
It may seem tedious, but having a comprehensive written record of what was discussed and what arrangements were made, will protect you and the school from liability should anything go wrong.
2. Create a site-specific safety plan
A site-specific safety plan is a written agreement between you and the contractor that specifies how health and safety will be managed at the site.
The first step is identifying any potential health and safety hazards. This might include:
- Dust and debris
- Asbestos and lead
- Chemical exposure (e.g. to paints, glues, varnishes, floor strippers, etc.)
- Exhaust fumes
- Falling equipment and materials
- Struck-by hazards (vehicles, construction equipment, etc.)
- Disruption of fire suppression systems, alarms or blocked emergency exits.
The next step is formulating a comprehensive plan to minimise or eliminate these health and safety hazards.
Things you will need to discuss with your contractor include:
- What areas will you need to keep clear in order to maintain access to the worksite?
- What areas are needed to safely store materials?
- What type of safety barriers will the contractor erect, and where will these barriers be placed?
- What type of vehicular access is required, and when/where can this be given?
- What is the best time of day to perform the work? (Can the work be done outside of break times or before/after school to help ensure student safety?)
- What policy does the contractor have for handling and storing hazardous substances?
- How will the contractor ensure the use of hazardous substances don’t affect the health and safety of staff and students?
- How will excessive noise/dust/fumes be managed?
- Does the work require any interruption to essential utility services, such as water, sewerage, electricity and phone? If so, how will these interruptions be managed?
- How will you ensure students are safe from the contractor’s vehicles or construction equipment?
- What should be done in the event of an emergency?
- Do your workers have working with children checks (if children will be on premises)?
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but this gives you an idea of what type of things you will need to consider. Your school may also have other risks that are particular to the premises, so be sure to take note of these and mention these to the contractor.
You may also want to take additional precautions if there are primary school–age students who will be near the site, such as widening the buffer zone or ensuring there is a staff member nearby at break times to monitor the area and make sure students aren’t getting too close to the site.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Your safety plan should also include regular communication with parents, students, staff and the contractor.
Ensure parents are given advanced notice of any upcoming work if possible (if not, ensure parents are informed as soon as possible), and communicate any hazards directly and openly. Being straightforward about any risks and how these are being mitigated will help to allay any concerns parents might have.
Inform the staff about any aspects of the site-specific plan that impacts on them directly (such as any changes to the emergency response plan, or any areas that can’t be used while the work is in progress, or whether they will be required to supervise the area during break times). Provide staff with regular updates on the progress of the works, and inform them of any changes that arise. Encourage staff to express any concerns they may have with how the contractor is conducting themselves on site.
Ensure students are given explicit instructions about how they should conduct themselves around the school while the work is underway in order to maintain their health and safety. This may include avoiding certain areas of the school, or using alternative classrooms until their usual classroom is deemed safe. Ensure disciplinary action is taken if students fail to abide by the rules.
By observing due diligence and having comprehensive written agreements, you can feel confident you’ve covered all your bases and done everything possible to ensure the safety of everyone on the premises.
As a commercial contractor and provider of comprehensive building maintenance services, Higgins is the perfect partner to ensure that your next school maintenance project goes off without a hitch. We’ve even created downloadable worksite risk assessment to help you keep your facility as safe as possible. To find out more, download our Worksite Risk Assessment.
Higgins Coatings provides Australian schools with building maintenance plans, commercial painting, and refurbishment services in select areas. We understand that school facilities need to make a good impression on parents, students, and alumni at all times. Our preventative maintenance plans are designed to keep your school or educational facility looking its best while working within your timing, budget, and safety requirements. Higgins has an ISO tri-certification accreditation in safety, quality and the environment. Contact us today to learn more about our school painting maintenance solutions.