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Hazards at church

LPNI Health Topic – January 2017
Hazards at church
In everyday life people face a variety of hazards to their safety.  These include fire, flood, road traffic, slippery surfaces, machinery and tools, working at heights or in confined spaces, and – for nurses – manual handling of patients.
Potentially dangerous hazards can also be found in and around churches.  These may include unmarked or inadequately marked steps, sharp edges, fire hazards (including out-of-date fire extinguishers), loose electrical power cords, loose carpets or runners, and overcrowded seating (especially at Christmas and Easter!).
I still have memories of some of the Christmas Eve services in a congregation where my husband was formerly the pastor.  We had more than 200 children in the Sunday school, and most of them – and their families – would turn up for the Christmas Eve children’s service, even if they didn’t worship during the rest of the year.   They absolutely crammed the church centre.  Extra chairs were brought in and almost filled the aisles – a very real potential hazard should there have been an emergency of some sort!
At Mount Barker, where I began my Parish Nursing, two ‘incidents’ led to the formation of a Safety Committee.  One was the discovery that the fire extinguishers in the church had not been checked for over two years, and the other was a child’s finger somehow getting jammed in one of the seats
The Safety Committee comprised two members of the Parish Nurse Committee (one of whom was an OH&S nurse at a local smallgoods factory) plus the chairman of the church’s Property Committee and myself.   The committee’s task was to assess and deal with potential hazards.  One of the first things this committee did was to carry out a comprehensive safety audit of the whole church plant and its surroundings.  It also prepared a form that members could use to report any hazards they became aware of.
It is important that churches adopt satisfactory methods of managing safety hazards.  The following guidelines, adapted from several sources, may be helpful.
Identify and list all the hazards that exist in your church environment.
  • Assess the risk posed by each particular hazard.
  • Prioritise your list of hazards, placing the ones most likely to cause a problem that may have major consequences at the top and deal with those first.
  • Consider ways to control the hazards you have identified.
  • Put in place control measures to minimise the likely consequences of any hazard.
  • Review each hazard regularly to ensure the control measures are working effectively.
    Another aspect of my role in relation to safety at church was the responsibility of ensuring that the congregation’s Safety First kit and resources were adequate and up-to-date.  To ensure that all necessary items were available in the kit, I developed a checklist based on several sources. I am happy to make a copy available to anyone who would like one.
    Lynette Wiebusch
    Paradise, South Australia
     
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