Health and safety issues when putting up displays. 6

No display this time, just a word of warning:

There have been over 3000 staff injuries from falls in schools in the last 5 years in the UK. Classroom assistants and teachers are both at risk from falls especially in older buildings with high ceilings. At this time of year they are more likely to be stripping boards and possibly re-backing them rather than actually putting up displays. Putting in that extra effort to yank out a staple, straining to reach something just beyond your grasp puts you at risk. Even quite low falls from desks and/or chairs while putting up displays can be damaging.

Be aware of your school’s health and safety policy and risk assessment, which should cover the possibility of falls. You need to not just know it but follow it! In some schools the policy is carefully displayed, perhaps in the staffroom, and then totally ignored. I’ve found myself precariously perched, even standing on a wall mounted computer bench, or balanced on a sink trying to just reach a tricky bit. If I’d fallen I would have been in clear breach of the Staff Health and Safety policy and I’d have had no claim against the school for any injuries I sustained. The policy clearly states that you have to use step ladders but from a step ladder there is no way to reach the top of the display board. I could/should have refused to do it, but then my teacher would have done it herself and she’s shorter than me! So you probably need to get some agreement as a whole staff that none of you will take risks. Might be something to take up with your union rep and/or your Well-being facilitator (if you have one).

Here’s some advice from the HSE

  • Always ask yourself if you can avoid or minimise work at height if possible, eg use lightly weighted strings to pull display items up over beams, prepare displays as far as possible before putting them up.(I totally disagree with this bit – heavy displays are much harder to put up!) Avoid becoming another statistic
  • Always use suitable equipment for working at height, eg kick-step type stools, properly designed and maintained low steps, poles for opening high windows etc. Your school should have this sort of equipment. If you still can’t reach without overstretching, ask for help from a premises manager. (This may lead to you watching her do exactly what you were about to!) — Be aware of your school’s health and safety policy and risk assessment, which should cover the possibility of falls from height.
  • Always think of your personal safety and assess the risk from what you propose to do.
  •  Remember that school furniture was not designed for you to stand on.
  • Be aware of obstructions at all times.
  •  Wear suitable footwear.
  • Report poor maintenance, such as damaged window mechanisms, which could create hazards.
  •  Be aware of slippery surfaces, particularly stairs.
  • Reduce accidents on stairs by encouraging people not to run or push.
  • If you are worried about the lack of equipment or its poor quality, inform your head teacher or safety representative.

Are you safe when you are putting up displays? There are some excellent, free resources & e-learning course from the HSE

About Linda Hartley

Hi, I enjoy helping teachers to make their classrooms into interesting visual learning environments. I write most of this site and I also run the Classroom Displays online course which you can find out more about in the sidebar.

6 thoughts on “Health and safety issues when putting up displays.

  • Glenda Hill

    Another issue with safety in schools for teachers is”other people”. A beautiful young teacher was murdered in a high school on a sunday whilst she was preparing for a casual teacher coming in to relieve her whilst she was going on her honeymoon. She never made it. This occurred in country NSW Australia but can happen anywhere. Make sure that you are with other teachers when you are at school after hours. We, as teachers in NSW, have been formally warned about the dangers. We have been deeply affected by this.

    • Linda Hartley Post author

      Wow Glenda, that’s really scary! Most UK schools have good security systems and people can’t just walk in. A sad reflection of incidents in the past. We moan about them sometimes but it does keep people safe. Good advice though, as I guess if someone was really determined they could crack the systems.

  • Linda Post author

    Hi Pat – tell them it’s for your continuing professional development, and that the Classroom Displays Group is a community of practice for makers of displays. Also mention that all children’s names will be obscured and no identifiable images of children will be added. That should cover it 🙂
    Thanks for adding your tips, always welcome.
    Using templates for regularly made boards is a good one. If you photograph that one I’ll try to feature it on the blog.

  • Pat

    Thanks Linda.
    Re: photographic documentation of displays in school. I will check with the school if it’s OK to take photos. Hope so!!! We’ll see ….. !!!

    I am still new to the job. (Started in Sept.)

    It takes ages just to clear down old boards. I am hoping that by the end of the year I will be able to spend more of my time getting new displays up than taking old ones down!!! RSI has been a bit of a concern I must say. Another aspect of health and safety in the job.

    It’s nice to know there is someone else out there with a similar job.

    One thing I found out quickly was to use sewing cotton as a guide (blu tacked on) to give me straight lines in any direction. You can define all the edge measurements in this way, divide the board up evenly, helps you cope with a big space. You can take a line of cotton across, and sort of visually “hang” all the work from this line, then just take the cotton away.
    My next idea was to try big squares, triangles, circles etc of coloured paper as abstract background, and to divide up space, but haven’t got round to it yet.
    Also using wallpaper for mounting individual pieces of work on to the main display – but only leave a little border of it peeping out around the edge or you will need sunglasses with some patterns!!!

    It took me while to work out how to print large sized lettering in Word!! I didn’t realise you could go beyond 72pt by clicking on the typesize little window and just typing in any size you like (within reason)!!!! I could have kicked myself!!!

    I don’t know if this helps anyone but another useful thing … I made for a member of staff who had to do a regular “pupil of the month board” herself to same format. It took her a while to position the photos, heading, labels etc, each time.
    I made her a standard card template with the right amount of spaces for photos and headings etc in. She just has to pin this up to the board first, then place the photos in the spaces, and pin, then remove the guide/template. Makes it quicker.

  • Linda Post author

    Hi Pat,
    I had a similar problem reaching over computers to put stuff up is really risky, as is standing on the computer bench. There doesn’t seem to be any good solution 🙁 You just have to out your own safety first. (I don’t suppose they’d be too thrilled if you wrecked their computers as you fell/dropped a heavy staple gun/whatever!)
    Senior schools do contribute both here and on the Flickr group. Have a look at . Why not join the Flickr group and upload some of your own? Membership of Flickr is free and you can have up to 200 photos. I’d love to feature more secondary school work! We have another member with a similar job to yours,
    Staples are a constant pain aren’t they? Pliers do work but it’s tricky when you are up a step ladder as well! Please report back here if you find a good solution.

  • Pat

    As a member of school support staff in a senior school, with a graphics background, I am specifically responsible for nearly all the school displays (hundreds of them). What I find is that with the increased use of computer technology, computer desks are being fixed in front of long-standing display boards. I have stood on the desks, but been a bit uneasy about it, as I’m no fairy weight, and they are not designed for standing on – plus I have to tip toe my way between cables, computer screens, keyboards and printers.
    I can’t reach the display boards if I stand on a ladder. Yet I was asked to somehow re-do the displays!!!
    I approached both of the school health and safety officers, who have written to the LEA for the official stance on this. I have been told not to do the displays in the meantime. No response as yet – the LEA is taking a long time to reply.
    Do you know of any web sites that deal with senior school displays? I am having a very hard time finding anything.
    I think the idea of photographically documenting successful displays is a really good one. Do senior schools contribute to this too? If not, can I make a start?!!!
    In senior schools we have more of a problem with vandalism. We cover our displays with plastic sheeting in corridors and some classrooms, but even this gets ripped etc.
    What do you do when faced with display boards with thousands of staples, or that have been painted over staples and all, or the person who put up the display has used industrial strength staples, or has stapled straight into the wall? I have encountered all these. Ouch!!! Invitation to RSI!!! I gave up with ordinary staple removers, they didn’t work or weren’t strong enough, and I didn’t want a staple to fly into my eye. I loosen a staple at one end (they don’t usually sink into the board so far at each end) with a small screwdriver and pull out with pliers. I know it’s not ideal, and would love any suggestions for a more effeicient way of staple removal that would save my aching hand. A tack lifter tool has been suggested, so I will be going on the trail of one in a hardware shop …

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