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Health and Safety Services

Health and safety policy for maintenance and building operations


This safety statement should be read in conjunction with the Birkbeck Safety Policy.

The Health & Safety at Work etc Act (1974) requires that plant and systems of work are reasonably maintained, so far as is reasonably practicable.

The Director of Estates and Facilities, David McGhie, regards health and safety as a core management function and this code is issued with his authority. The code is intended for the guidance of all members of maintenance staff especially those with responsibilities for the maintenance of building structures and utility services

The Maintenance Officer (Birkbeck staff) and Estates Project Manager (contractors) are responsible for the promotion of : safety awareness, maintenance of safe working and the instruction and training of (Birkbeck) staff . All matters concerning health & safety should be directed to the Safety Co-ordinators for maintenance and building operations within the Estates and Facilities Department in the first instance. The Safety Co-ordinators are Alan Fisher (Birkbeck staff) and Malcolm Pearson (contractors), Malet St. Extn 6025 & 6029 respectively.

College Safety Officer - The College Safety Officer liaises closely with the Estates Department and offers help and advice on any safety issue including the review of contractors’ safety policies and risk assessments. The College Safety Officer also provides safety training on a number of topics. Contact Tom McCartney, Extn 6218.

Legal Responsibilities of Staff - All College employees have a legal responsibility under Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable care of themselves and all others who may be affected by their acts and omissions and to co-operate with the College with regard to health & safety. All persons on College premises have a duty under Section 8 of the above Act not to interfere with or to misuse anything provided by the College in the interests of health and safety.

Risk Assessment - No work outside the scope of this document will be permitted to start unless it is covered by a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks involved in the work as required by the Management of Health and Safety At Work Regulations. The Safety Co-ordinator or College Safety Officer can provide advice on Risk Assessment.

Supervision of Trainees - Supervisors of trainees have a special responsibility to ensure that fully adequate instructions, even those perhaps seemingly obvious or elementary, are given to their charges to protect them from danger. The need for detailed instruction and close supervision of students and trainees is especially important in practical exercises. It is not sufficient for a supervisor to assume that an act or manoeuvre is so manifestly dangerous that no-one would attempt it.

In return the sections require trainees to observe instructions given by their staff and to take reasonable care to ensure that their acts or omissions do not result in injury to themselves or others.

Induction of New staff - All new staff must have a thorough induction on safety matters before commencing their duties. This should include a thorough questioning by the relevant supervisor to discover where there might be gaps in the safety knowledge of new employees with regard to the range of duties they will be expected to undertake. Arrangements must be made to provide safety training where a need is identified. All new employees should attend a general safety induction session with the College Safety Officer.

Fire Safety - Smoking is strictly forbidden across the College except in the JCR. All flammable materials such as paint and thinners must be kept in a flammable liquid cupboard.

Instructions concerning procedure in the case of fire are prominently displayed at strategic points around the areas of the College occupied by the sections. Staff should familiarise themselves with these procedures and also with the escape routes in all other areas of the College they visit. On hearing the fire alarm staff will direct any students and visitors to the nearest exits. The Duty Attendant is in charge of implementing the College’s emergency evacuation procedures and may issue instructions to and request assistance from other members of staff.

Emergency Number 555 (See also the Arrangements section of the College Safety Policy). The College emergency number can be dialled from any College telephone to summon help or report emergencies to a duty attendant who will summon help as appropriate from the emergency services or a member of staff.

Health Service - Staff and students of the College are entitled to make use of the medical and dental facilities provided by the University of London Central Institutions Health Service (20 Gower Street, WC1, Tel: 0207 636 7628); details of surgery hours, etc. are given in the College Calendar and are posted in main entrance halls.

Accident and First Aid (See also the Arrangements section of the College Safety Policy) - In the case of serious accident or illness, an ambulance should be summoned by telephone immediately. The duty attendant should be informed promptly to await its arrival and direct the ambulance crew to the casualty.

Lists of Qualified First Aiders and first Aid boxes are kept within the main offices of the section and at the reception desks of the main buildings.

All accidents or incidents and near misses must be reported promptly using an accident report form available at:   The completed form should be sent to Birkbeck Health & Safety Services. Any person may report an accident/incident.

Staff who suffer from epilepsy, diabetes, or any other condition likely to require urgent attention, are advised, in their own interest, to inform the Head of Section, in order that assistance may be rendered promptly if necessary.

Basic Safety Precautions - For various reasons there can sometimes be a tendency in maintenance operations to take short cuts, using makeshift methods and equipment, inadequate scaffolds and unsecured ladders. In carrying out maintenance work, the observance of basic safety precautions will prevent many accidents of the fall, slip, stumble variety. Basic precautions must include:

1. Fencing of holes in floors and roadways, openings in floors and any other temporary opening.

2. Providing adequate covers for inspection pits not in use, and suitable barriers for open pits.

3. Keeping all gangways clear and free from tripping hazards.

4. Stacking materials safely and in a stable manner.

5. Ensuring weight loading limits of shelving and storage areas are not exceeded.

6. Being aware of dangerous machinery trapping points and of live conductors in close proximity.

7. Access to all work must be safe. Proper equipment to reach higher levels than can be reached off ground level must be provided.

8. Roping off areas below high level working activities.

9. Wearing protective headgear and footwear where required.

10. ‘Danger - Live Electricity’ or similar notices must be displayed when work is being done on open switch/fuse boxes and other electrical installations.

11. Testing for live cables or other buried services must be undertaken before using pneumatic drills etc..

12. Care must be exercised to ensure that the work will not foul and overhead cables, lights or weak structures.

13. Warning notices must be displayed whenever maintenance work can create a hazard in order to keep staff, students and visitors safe.

Lifting and Moving Loads - The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 define manual handling as meaning, any transporting, supporting, lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving of a load by hand or bodily force. All staff whose work involves an element of manual handling will be required to attend a session on risk assessment and safe lifting delivered by the College Safety Officer. Guidance and training on manual handling is available from the Safety Office. Some general guidance follows :

General Lifting Guidance - No person must attempt to handle on their own a load which is excessively heavy or bulky. The same applies to items having awkward dimensions and to sheet and long rolls. It must always be possible to see the way ahead. Any mechanical handling equipment provided should be used unless the load is well within the person’s capacity. Remember when lifting to always :

1 Face the load squarely (except when lifting wide boards which are best carried on the back).

2 Bend the legs to get down to the load being lifted. Avoid stooping.

3 Keep the back as straight as possible.

4 Grip the load firmly and straighten the legs to lift the load.

5 Never over-reach or twist the body when picking up or setting down a load.

If more than one person is lifting or carrying a load, it must be clear who is the leader giving instructions. Confused instructions lead to accidents.

Construction, Design and Management Regulations - Estates Department managers are trained to recognise when the CDM regs apply and how to apply them. It is unlikely that the maintenance staff of the College will be engaged in projects large enough to meet the criteria for these regulations to apply. These are :

1 Any demolition work.

2 Any design work.

3 Any project work which involves five persons or more on site at one time.

4 Construction work lasting more than 30 days or 500 person days of work.

Asbestos - Asbestos and asbestos-containing products encapsulated or paint-sealed and left undisturbed and undamaged presents no hazard. The mineral becomes a health hazard only when its fibres become airborne and are ingested. Since positive identification of asbestos requires expert microscopy, the advice of the College Safety Officer should be sought before attempting work on any material suspected of containing the mineral. It is most important that broken tiles, damaged lagging, or any exposed surfaces suspected of containing asbestos should not be disturbed but should be reported to the College Estates Officer immediately. The College has an asbestos policy at: http:/ that must be followed by Estates maintenance personnel.

Noise - The noise level within the Carpenters’ workshop has been assessed for risk and the personal exposure of employees is below an 85dB(A) time weighted average. Ear protection is nevertheless available to all carpenters on request and the noise level is monitored periodically. (Guidance on the Noise at Work Regulations (1989) is available from the Safety Office). Ear defenders should also be available to other maintenance personnel whose work can involve exposure to excessive noise for periods of time from metal working or other activities.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) - All substances hazardous to health within the Estates Maintenance sections have been assessed for risk and adequate controls put in place. Staff have been trained in safe usage and provided with adequate information and training. Guidance and training on the COSHH Regulations is available from the Safety Office. Substances likely to require COSHH assessment include : paints, thinners, glues, oils, greases, stains and battery acids.

Electrical Safety - All electrical work will be carried out according to the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989) and to the standard required by the latest edition of the IEE Regs (currently the 16th edition). Guidance is available from the Electrical Supervisor and the College Safety Office.

Maintenance of Electrical Equipment - The College has a Portable Electrical Appliance testing policy at that the area must comply with.  In addition, should staff suspect any item of mains powered electrical equipment of being defective because of age, appearance or damage it must be taken out of service and reported to the Maintenace Supervisor who will arrange for the item to be visually inspected and electrically tested  as necessary.

Maintenance of Machinery - The removal of guards for the purposes of maintaining machinery is often necessary. In these circumstances it is necessary to isolate the machine from the power supply. It is not enough to rely on the machine off switch. See Electricity at Work Regs. Maintaining machinery in motion is forbidden unless the necessary maintenance can only be carried out while part of the machinery is in motion and is carried out in accordance with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1992). Guidance on the these Regs is available from the Safety Office.

Housekeeping in Workshops and Plant Rooms - Housekeeping in workshops and plant rooms will be kept to a high standard. Dust, rubbish and old equipment will not be allowed to accumulate. All floors, steps, stairs, passages and gangways will be of sound construction and properly maintained and shall as far as reasonably practicable be kept free from obstruction and any substance such as oil likely to cause persons to slip. In addition to the general statements above, all workshops and plant rooms will conform to the requirements of the Workplace Regulations (1992). Guidance on these regulations is available from the Safety Office.

Spillages - It is recommended that basic equipment designed to control any liquid or other spillage that might occur should be kept close to where a spillage might be likely. This should consist of dry sand or other absorbent, gloves, shovel, plastic bags, bucket. Immediate steps must be taken with a spillage. People must be kept away until cleaning up is completed especially when the spillage is in a thoroughfare. It will be necessary to isolate the area contaminated. It may be necessary to use barriers. Consideration must be given to the risk of fire or explosion when flammable liquid is spilt. No smoking or other naked flames must be allowed in the area.

Gas Safety - Work on gas systems and appliances will only be carried out by persons registered with the Council for Registered Gas Installers (CORGI) and will be carried out in accordance with the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994. Guidance on these regulations is available from the Safety Office.

Machinery and tools -

1) Maintenance of machinery safeguards is essential to maintain effectiveness

2) Maintenance of machinery must only be undertaken by qualified personnel.

3) There should be a planned maintenance scheme for all machines and portable appliances.

4) Information from suppliers of machines must include comprehensive maintenance instructions which should be incorporated in any maintenance programme.

5) Maintenance should include the efficiency of any lighting that may be incorporated in a machine. Emergency stop arrangements must be regularly checked.

6) A notice must be displayed on machines or portable appliances undergoing maintenance or repair stating that the equipment must remain electrically isolated and not used.

7. After maintenance and repair work a check must be made to ensure that emergency stop arrangements are checked and all safeguards have been restored to their full working condition.

Guarding of Machinery - Many items of powered machinery such as pillar drills and circular saws are fitted with guards. Guards are always to be used when operating such machinery. It is absolutely forbidden to use a machine if the guard has been removed.

Lone Working - For safety reasons some maintenance operations would benefit from being carried out in pairs in order that prompt remedial action may be taken by one operative if another gets into difficulties though strict adherence to safety measures should minimise the risk of accidents occurring. Decisions on working in pairs on particular tasks for safety reasons will be taken as part of an assessment of risk and will mostly involve tasks which require a permit to work. See ‘permit to work’ section.

Permit to Work Situations - A ‘Permit to Work’ form must be issued before work can proceed on any of the situations set out below.
See here for a PTW form.

a ‘Hot work’ - see below. basically any process that might cause a fire or set off a smoke detector.

b) Any work whatsoever on the fire alarm system.

c) Work on live electrical systems above 240V AC.

d) Entry into enclosed spaces such as ducts, tanks, boilers or similar voids.

e) Entry into pits, sumps, trenches etc over 2 metres depth.

f) Work on lifts, lift machinery and in lift shafts.

g) Work in the battery room.

h) Work in areas containing ionising radiations or biohazards.

i) Work on fume cupboards and their associated extraction systems.

j) Work in chemical storage areas/rooms.

k) Work on fragile roofs, pitched/sloping roofs or on flat roofs where the work is within 1 metre of the edge.

l) Other work as may be determined by the Operational Estate Manager or College Safety Officer or resulting from a risk assessment.

Hot work - welding, soldering, braising, cutting. - All such work carries the risk of fire or of setting off the fire alarm and as such may only be undertaken carried out after a duly authorised ‘permit for hot work’ has been issued. The permit will detail the full conditions under which the work must be carried out. These will include arrangements for the disconnection of smoke/heat detectors and the requirement for a person to remain in the working area for 30 minutes after work has been completed to ‘smoulder watch’. See here for a PTW form. The compressed gas containers associated with hot work must be stored well away from sources of heat.

Exceptions to the above are - work carried out in workshops properly set up for braising and soldering. Small scale soldering with an electric iron in non-dedicated areas still carries the risk of setting off smoke detectors and checks should be made that such work is not carried out in their vicinity without following disconnection arrangements.

Contractors - The Estates & Facilities Department has been identified by the College as a higher risk management area with a wide range of complex hazards and/or potentially severe injury consequences. Accordingly, Estates officers will only enter into contracts with companies who are able to demonstrate that they have a record of due regard for health and safety e.g. via testimonials or membership of relevant professional associations etc and who are committed to employing competent staff and sub-contractors.  Contractors will also be required to supply Estates officers with method statements or risk assessments that incorporate suitable and sufficient safety arrangements for the work they are to carry out.  Estates officers will examine these documents to ensure that they are indeed suitable and sufficient.  Estates officers will  require such documentation to be reviewed and revised  to take account of any changes to the work method, design or timing etc that may become necessary during a project.

Ladder Safety - Before accepting that a ladder is the suitable means of access to a place of work, consideration should be given to provision of a more permanent means of access. A permanent working platform is safer.

Stepladders and stepstools must always be used to access materials on high shelves. Furniture should never be used as a substitute. Only 'Trade' rated ladders and stepladders must be purchased and used. 'Domestic' rated ladders and stepladders are never to be used in a working environment.

It is an absolute requirement for all ladders to be soundly constructed and properly maintained. All ladders must be marked with an identity number which is then registered along with records of regular inspections. Inspections should ensure that:

1. There are no defective or missing treads or rungs.
2. Stiles or uprights are sound and not split or warped and the steps do not lean to any side.
3. Welded and/or bolted joins are sound.
4. Wheels where fitted are free moving and not leaning off line.
5. They are not painted
6. Rungs are properly notched and housed into uprights.
7. Tie bars are secure.

Do and don'ts advice for stepladder users
Do not use a makeshift stepladder.
Do not overreach from a stepladder - always move it.
Do not overload a ladder.When working inside a room - Do not place the stepladder where it may be struck by doors - lock the doors and put up an appropriate sign or position a colleague outside in order that the steps are not struck by opening doors.
When working in circulation areas or outside where the steps might be struck by vehicles or passers-by - do erect barriers and secure doors.
Do take steps out of service and report defects if noticed.
Do wear sound footwear.
Do return the stepladder to its storage place after use.
Do leave one hand free when ascending and descending. Health and Safety Executive guidance (GS31) on the safe use of ladders, step-ladders and trestles is available from the Safety Office.
Do always ensure that stepladders are placed on a level and stable surface.
Do have a colleague steady the bottom of tall sets of stepladders to ensure stability.
Do not support a ladder by its bottom rung.
Do not overreach from a ladder - always move it.
Do not use a ladder in wet conditions.
Do not allow the ladder to reach an unsafe zone (eg unfenced machinery or exposed electrical conductors).
Do not carry tools or equipment up a ladder. Hoist by means of a rope or use a sling, holster or belt.
Do inspect ladders before and after use and repair all defects before reuse.
Do make sure that the ladder rises at least a metre above the landing place.
Do set the ladder at the correct angle, a pitch of 1 : 4, ie the base out one metre to every 4 metres up.
Do stand the ladder on a firm level base. Use only approved methods to adjust.

Step-ladders and trestles (Youngmans) - The advice applying to ladders applies equally to the use of step-ladders and trestles; registration, maintenance and frequent inspections should all be carried out with the same care.

"Steps" are mostly used as work platforms rather than a means of access only and therefore pose serious problems for the user, especially when the steps exceed an average person’s height.

They are free-standing and therefore most vulnerable to tipping over, even when the stretchers are sound and fully extended.

Many accidents occur due to attempts to work from the higher treads and over reaching in one direction or another. Therefore, do not attempt to work from the top of the steps unless a purpose built platform with barrier/handrail is provided.

Health & Safety Executive guidance (GS31) on the safe use of ladders, step-ladders and trestles is available from the Safety Office.

Roofs - Falls from or through roofs invariably result in serious accidents. Access to roofs must be either by stabilised ladder or other permanent fixed means from outside or within the building.

Permanent walkways should be installed on roofs where possible. Suitable crawling boards, in good condition, must always be available and used on roofwork.

No person should work alone on roofwork. Permanent notices must be posted on fragile roofs and on their approaches as a warning to maintenance workers and contractors.

Local site specific rules detailing safe systems of work for working on or over roofs must be devised and adhered to. These should include consideration of the wearing of harnesses. Where these are deemed necessary, personnel must receive training in their use. Items of harness must receive periodic safety checks which must be recorded in writing. Harnesses must only be attached to sound anchorage points.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - gloves, goggles, masks, hard hats, ear defenders

The elimination of risk is the first consideration in the protection of persons. Only when a risk cannot be eliminated or controlled by engineering should the provision of PPE be considered.

The hazards involved in the job must be analysed in order to ensure that the correct PPE is selected and used. The duty of care owed by an employer to an employee is an individual one. Accordingly, PPE must suit the individual employee. As employees are of different shapes and sizes what suits one may not suit another.

The protection of eyes regulations require that suitable eye protection be provided and worn for many prescribed tasks. All PPE must be regularly inspected and maintained.

Advice and information on the selection of PPE is available from the safety office as is guidance on the PPE at Work Regulations 1992 and the Protection of Eyes Regulations.

Record Keeping - The law requires records to be kept of many maintenance operations. The Operational Estates Manager keeps the asbestos register. The electrical supervisor keeps records of maintenance checks associated with the fire alarm system. The mechanical foreman keeps records of checks on the water supply for legionella. Other statutory tests records kept in the Maintenance Section are - lift maintenance, eyebolts and pressure vessels.

Room Heaters - Because of the associated fire-risk, the use of any type of electrical or bottled-gas room heater is strictly prohibited unless prior written consent has been obtained from the College Operational Estate Manager. Never leave a room heater running unattended other than for brief periods and certainly never overnight.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) - The College is committed to implementing the requirements of the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 and to that end arranges for all their DSE workstations to be assessed for ergonomic and other aspects of safety as required by the regulations and to be used in a safe manner. The College has a number of staff trained in DSE workstation assessment. To obtain the name of a DSE assessor, staff should contact the safety co-ordinator or the College Safety Officer. All DSE "users" are required to work through the interactive training package available via the following link: or refer to the College’s Display Screen Guidelines at:

Annual Inspection -Each year, by the start of the new academic session, a health and safety inspection of each section arranged by the section's safety coordinator in collaboration with trades union nominees will be carried out and a report on the inspection submitted to the College Health and Safety Officer.

Review - This safety policy statement and any associated codes of practice will be updated annually or more often if necessary.

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