Please note this is a guest article written by an external Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner. Edward Connor Solicitors do not have expertise to advise directly on Health and Safety matters. See below for how to access specialist support in this area.
Why must health and safety remain part of our operations?
If previously health and safety was only in the public conscience in the context of it having ‘gone mad’, two years’ worth of a global pandemic has brought it firmly to the forefront of our daily lives. Many individuals and organisations – including churches and other Christian organisations – have been forced to rethink their health and safety obligations.
Throughout the pandemic health and safety law was primarily used as a tool to control and manage Coronavirus (COVID-19) risk. Since the start of the pandemic in late 2020 until 3 March 2022, central government made and laid 582 Coronavirus-related Statutory Instruments (SIs) before the UK Parliament.
The government has now scrapped all remaining COVID-19 statutes, removing all relevant legal restrictions, but are we moving safely away from a world living with COVID-19, or is it here for the long run? Moreover, is health and safety still important to us? Must it remain a vital part of our churches’ and organisations’ operations?
The uncertainty of COVID-19 is still a present threat with new sub-variants of Omicron (BA.4 and BA.5) on the horizon. In the midst of this uncertainty, we want to support our clients with health and safety resources as you look to safeguard your communities and position yourselves at the forefront of helping protect the public health.
Let’s look at three reasons why health and safety must remain part of our ministries’ operations.
It is a legal requirement
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is primary legislation that places a general duty on all employers to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare (wellbeing) of its employees, and any other person, are maintained at work.
The law clearly states that all organisations need to have a policy to manage health and safety. If you employ more than five staff, this policy must be written down and shared with your staff, and any changes communicated. A health and safety policy should detail those with responsibilities, listing who does what, when and how.
Other key elements of a policy include what arrangements are in place to manage and control all health and safety within the organisation. These arrangements will include areas of risk, such as: fire, manual handling, risk assessments, protecting vulnerable persons, food safety and hygiene, first aid etc. When COVID-19 regulations were revoked, the legal requirement to have a specific COVID-19 risk assessment ceased, but for many organisations it would be wise to continue to consider it as part of their health and safety policy, particularly as we head towards autumn and winter.
You are probably aware of or have heard the term ‘risk assessment’. Risk assessment is all about assessing those activities and practices carried out within the church’s undertaking or in its operations, whether on site, or elsewhere. Assessing risk is fundamental to making sure your health and safety obligations are met and that appropriate arrangements are in place. Again, if you employ more than five staff, you are legally required to have a written record of identified hazards, associated risks and what measures should be put in place to mitigate and control risks. Even if you employ less than five staff, it is still advisable to have a written policy and risk assessments to ensure health and safety risks are properly engaged with.
Churches and other charitable organisations also owe a legal duty of care to non-employees – so volunteers engaging in work for a charity, or members of the public attending a church service, would need to have their safety considered too (so far as is reasonably practicable) by the church/charity.
It is an outworking of God’s call to love one another
Christians should not simply obey the law for fear of reprimand – we seek to honour our God through honouring the authorities He has placed over us, but also, we seek to love those He has placed under our care.
This might mean a Christian organisation going beyond what is simply required by the law in order to honour the heart of the principles behind the law – namely, people’s wellbeing. You might, for example, decide to produce a health and safety policy to help ensure the church’s leadership are best protected, or to fund someone to take first aid training so you have a certified first aider on site, even if that isn’t a legal requirement for your organisation.
Another way that good health and safety practice helps us to love those under our care is by stewarding well the resources God has blessed us with – for example, a good risk assessment of any property your organisation owns may help avert issues that could take them out of action. Conversely, poor stewarding through neglecting health and safety obligations could result in resources that are incapable of being used for the gospel, temporarily or permanently.
In short, good health and safety practice equates to love in action and good stewardship. Christian organisations may therefore not be content simply to meet the baseline legal standard, wanting instead to excel and provide all measures necessary to show they fully care for one another, can effectively protect and prevent harm to one another and to provide a safe, healthy, and compliant environment in which to operate. It is of course important to find a balance, where the above is achieved within the available means and measures don’t become more important than the very people they are trying to protect!
It is evangelistic
Health and safety…evangelistic? Definitely! Where sin’s natural bent drives towards disobedience and laziness, our changed hearts want to honour God through obedience to authority and work hard to bless and protect those we encounter as part of our gospel activity.
This behaviour alone is a powerful witness to people who may have had far more negative experiences of organisations’ care for their staff or volunteers. Churches and Christian organisations have an opportunity of demonstrating Christ’s love for all in the way they go above and beyond in their care for people.
On a practical level, assessing and managing risks will generally reduce issues that could harm your ministry. And, while we can never guarantee safety, nor rule out God working through the most disastrous of events, ensuring good health and safety as far as possible should help with the success of your evangelistic outreach.
As summer and autumn of 2022 fast approach, churches and other charities are once more looking to organisers to plan family and outreach events. It is exciting that public events are again taking the limelight, yet crucial that any scheduled public events are effectively prepared, planned and executed. If you would like support or advice to develop these event management plans, or have a professional carry out a sense check, whether a local church event or a larger regional public event (that requires plans submitted to your local authority Safety Advisory Group) please see below for details.
Support for your church or Christian organisation
Special thanks are given to Jules Wilks, a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, and consultant who specialises in Food Safety and Hygiene & Health and Safety, in writing this article. Jules currently works in both the public and private sector and provides strategic and operational advice to a number of leading and high-profile national companies, within the hospitality, building and construction and retail sectors.
For direct consultancy support for your church or Christian organisation in the area of health and safety, Jules can be contacted at [email protected] or on 07725 657792.