Hazard assessments are a critical piece in ensuring the health and safety of everyone at the school. They must be completed before any work takes place at the school and should be reviewed at regular intervals and when something changes at the school or in how the work is done. Typically, the first hazard assessment is done at the beginning of the school year.
The school division is responsible for establishing the formal hazard assessment—a document that contains all the hazards associated with the various jobs in the school division. Then, each school must develop a site-specific hazard assessment.
Site-Specific Hazard Assessment
The site-specific hazard assessment includes specific tasks and activities for each job at the school. Specific areas will require hazard assessments. For example, the hazards found in a science lab are different from those found in a school gym or in a regular classroom.
The site-specific hazard assessment involves the following tasks:
- Considering all work that takes place in each area of the school
- Identifying hazards
- Eliminating (or controlling) the hazards
- Communicating the results
Hazard assessments require input from all workers in the school, including teachers. You have the right to know what hazards exist at your work site and to participate in creating the hazard assessment. Individual workers will have different perspectives and, as a result, different considerations that may not have been initially included in the hazard assessment.
If a hazard can’t be eliminated, it must be controlled using a combination of controls. The hierarchy of controls is shown below.
Reproduced with permission from Hazard Assessment and Control: A Handbook for Alberta Employers and Workers (Edmonton, Alta: Government of Alberta, 2020), 35. © Alberta Queen’s Printer, 2020.
The first choice of controls is to engineer the workplace to isolate people from the hazard. For example, consider a teacher’s exposure over time to loud noise in a music room. Engineering to control this hazard could involve adding soundproofing to the walls or the ceiling of the room to reduce the echo and the level of noise.
If the hazard can’t be controlled by engineering alone, adding administrative controls is the next choice. This involves changing how people work. For example, the amount of time the teacher is exposed to loud noise in the music room could be controlled by adjusting the teacher’s schedule to 45-minute blocks of music class instead of 90-minute blocks.
Finally, if the hazard is still not controlled as much as possible, PPE is added to the suite of controls in place. For example, the teacher could wear earplugs to reduce the hazards associated with exposure to loud noise.
The results of the hazard assessment must be communicated to all workers. This is an obligation of the school division. Teachers and other workers need to know how to work in a healthy and safe manner, and the employer must communicate this and then monitor to ensure that work is being done that way.
Everyone at the school must follow the protocols put in place to control the hazards identified and must communicate to the principal in a timely manner any concerns about an unsafe condition or a control not working or not being followed. This can result in a review of the hazard assessment and a modification of the controls in place, helping to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the school.
As a teacher, you can provide health and safety feedback to the principal at any time. Report an unhealthy or unsafe condition at the school in a timely manner. If you have suggestions for improving safety, let the principal know that you would like to discuss these matters at a health and safety committee meeting. This is part of the IRS, a key component of OHS legislation. The item for discussion should be recorded, as well as the discussion on the topic and the assessment of the issue. The result should then be shared with all workers in the school.
Hazard assessments must be available to all workers in the school, and the hazards and controls must be communicated to all workers. Failure to do so means that the school is not compliant with OHS legislation.