Last reviewed 27 February 2020

Andrew Christodoulou reminds us that the provision of training is no different to any other work activity and must be risk assessed as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).

Training is the heart of the management of health and safety in the workplace and is embedded in legislation. Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) requires the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of all employees.

The Act is not prescriptive about the nature or content of such instruction, training and supervision, and employers must make their own judgments and analysis about what is required. This legal requirement is supported by the MHSWR, which requires training to take place both on recruitment and on being exposed to new risks or increased risks. They also require the employee’s capabilities to be taken into account.

Where the training is provided in-house employers must carry out their own risk assessments. Where the training is provided off site at a third parties’ premises, employers must request risk assessments from the third party and ensure that their staff attending training will not be put at risk.

Training room/classroom training

The usual methodology for carrying risk assessments, as described by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in its guidance INDG163, can be used for risk assessments for the provision of training and as such an examination of the hazards associated with the training room should take place. Some find it helpful to use a simple categorisation of hazards as an aide memoir during the risk assessment process. One such scheme describes hazards as:

  • physical

  • ergonomic

  • chemical

  • biological.

Such a scheme has limitations but may be a useful guide to hazard spotting in the training room. Some of the key hazards in the training room are as follows.

Physical hazards

Fire and other emergencies

Fire is an important hazard to be considered for most training rooms and the standard precautions must be in place. The appropriate fire warning notices must be displayed; fire-fighting equipment such as extinguishers must be available, properly sited and signed; fire exits and routes must be clear and unobstructed; there must be evidence that evacuation drills take place as required; alarm systems must be tested on a regular basis and records maintained. Visitors including course attendees must be informed of the fire/emergency evacuation.

Other emergency events such as bomb/terrorist warnings must also be considered and arrangements in place.

Electrical

Electrical equipment such as projectors, televisions and leads must be in good condition and PAT tested and tagged as required. All areas must have residual current device (RCD) protection.

Housekeeping

The training room must be clean and tidy. There must be sufficient space for each person to work safely and comfortably. Floor surfaces must be maintained in a safe condition and suitable for the type of activities being conducted. Steps/stairs/ramps must be in a safe condition with non-slip surfaces, and secure handrails where needed. Trailing cables must be managed by re-routing or protection to avoid tripping hazards.

Ergonomic hazards

These are arguably one of the most important types of hazard since for effective learning, comfort and environmental considerations are key. The room must be well ventilated and at a comfortable temperature. Comfortable chairs must be provided and preferably adjustable. The lighting must be effective and reduce the risk of eye strain when viewing screens. Effective shades/blinds should be provided for sunlight. The training timetable should provide sufficient rest breaks from the training to ensure productive and effective learning and for social interaction.

Chemical

Generally, there are few significant chemical hazards in most training rooms. Most whiteboard cleaners and similar cleaners may contain solvents but do not usually present a significant risk when properly used. Many such chemicals can be obtained as water-based.

Care must be taken in training rooms which have walls containing asbestos. This is surprisingly common and may be present in buildings constructed as late as 1980. Building information files or CDM Health and Safety Files will give information relating to the presence of asbestos. Where asbestos is present, activities such as pinning display sheets to walls, etc should be restricted.

Biological

Where food and refreshments are provided, steps need to be taken to ensure that current food hygiene regulations are complied with and care taken regarding allergens. Arrangements must be in place to ensure that welfare facilities are kept clean. Some sites may carry the risk of legionella exposure and this should be investigated.

Special needs

Where an assessment of training facilities is carried out, consideration must be made for those with special needs. This will include those with disabilities, the young, older persons and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Risk assessments need to take into account additional and increased risks which may be present due to such factors. For example, particular risk assessments may be required for young persons, ie those under 18 years old and pregnant/nursing mothers.

Those with disabilities must be properly protected and risk assessments must account for such persons. Where necessary, the training facilities must have been adjusted (reasonable adjustments) in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. For example, training facilities must be able to accommodate those in wheelchairs. Fire evacuation procedures must take into account those with mobility issues.

Practical training

Practical training and instruction may be involved in much training and can take many forms. For example, manual handling and fire training courses often have a practical element and risk assessments must be in place to ensure the safety of course attendees. In some cases, training courses may be predominantly practical and involve high-risk activities such as electrical work and construction work including working at height. Often, this type of training involves young people studying for an apprenticeship. Risk assessments must take into account those factors such as inexperience which may be present when young persons are being trained. In many cases, practical training mirrors what takes place in industry and the same standards and legal requirements will apply. Some of the hazards which may be encountered during practical training may include the following.

Machinery safety must be considered. For example, woodworking and engineering machinery must be properly guarded and maintained and meet current standards and legislative requirements such as PUWER. Supervisory levels for trainees must be stipulated and enforced.

Hazardous chemicals may be present and COSHH assessments and data sheets should be viewed. Where personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, the PPE must have been selected by assessment and the necessary user training provided.

Manual handling tasks undertaken as part of practical training must have been assessed under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 and the necessary precautions such as the use of lifting aids provided and used.

Schools and universities carry out a good deal of practical training and this can include in workshops and laboratories. In some cases and in particular at universities, specialist risk assessments may be required to ensure the health and safety of students. In some cases, practical training work in universities may be experimental in which case risks may be significantly higher than during routine training.

Case studies

A 17-year-old apprentice was attending a training centre and had been sent there by his employer. He was training to be a woodworker. He was shown how to use a planing machine but there was little instruction in how to adjust the top guards at the machine. Later that day, he went to the instructor and asked whether he could use the planing machine to plane a small piece of wood, although he had never used the machine on his own before the instructor gave him permission to use the machine. The apprentice went to use the planing machine to plane a piece of wood which was only about six inches long and two inches thick. During planing, the apprentice did not know how to adjust the top guards at the machine. He did not know what the role of push-sticks were and consequently he did not use one. As he was planing, one of his hands came into contact with the rotating cutter block at the machine. The tips of several fingers were amputated.

No young person’s risk assessment had been carried out. The apprentice had not been properly trained. He was not properly supervised. The training centre was prosecuted and fined under s.3 of the HSWA. It was also sued by the apprentice who received compensation. He was left permanently disabled.

More recently, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle was fined after two students fell seriously ill following a laboratory experiment.

Students were learning about the effects of caffeine as part of a sports experiment. Part of the course included a practical exercise where volunteer students would take quantities of caffeine to demonstrate the impact. Two of the volunteer students drank a solution with 100 times the amount that should have been taken as part of the experiment. They immediately suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, shaking and rapid heartbeat. They were rushed to hospital where their conditions were considered life threatening. Dialysis was required to rid their bodies of the excessive levels of caffeine.

An investigation by the HSE found that the protocols set out for the experiment were not followed. The instructions were to use 200mg tablets but as they were not available the students were provided with caffeine in a powdered form. This created a situation where the students miscalculated the amount of powder to use and overdosed the two volunteers.

University of Northumbria pleaded guilty to breaching s.3(1) of the HSWA and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £26,468.22.

Conclusion

The provision of training by employers is mandatory. They must make sure that when their employees undergo such training whether it be in a training room, workshop or laboratory, those employees are safe. This can only be achieved through the risk assessment process.