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What schools need to know about…… An unannounced school visit from the Health & Safety Authority

What schools need to know about...... An unannounced school visit from the Health & Safety Authority

Imagine it’s the middle of a busy school day. Teachers are in their classrooms, students are moving through corridors, and suddenly, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) arrives unannounced. Panic? Not if you’re prepared. An unannounced school visit from the Health & Safety Authority often happens at the most inconvenient times, but they’re designed to ensure that health and safety isn’t just a checkbox exercise but a living, breathing part of your school’s culture.

What now? With our SafeSchool™ Program, you’ve got a lifeline—a guaranteed 1-hour online support to connect with our consultants via Teams. Instant access to expertise means you can address inspectors’ queries in real-time. It’s like having your own health and safety superhero ready when you need us most.

Can the Health & Safety Authority inspect my school unannounced?

In short, yes. Per the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the HSA has the authority to conduct these visits to ensure compliance with relevant health and safety regulations and guidelines. Inspectors will expect full cooperation and access to various areas of the school.

What will the Inspector Check during their visit?

The Inspector will be on your school premises for a few hours; during that time, they will conduct a detailed walkthrough looking at various aspects of your school, including:

  • Fire Provisions: Check that fire safety measures are in place, including functional fire alarms, clear and accessible fire exits, and up-to-date fire evacuation plans.
  • Classroom Safety: Furniture arrangement, electrical safety, trip hazards.
  • Emergency Exits: Clear signage, unobstructed pathways, and assembly points.
  • Outdoor Areas: Equipment safety, surface maintenance.
  • Science Labs and Technology Rooms: Chemical storage, equipment safety in labs, woodwork, and engineering rooms.
  • Canteen and Food Preparation Areas: Hygiene practices, food storage.
  • General Hygiene: Cleanliness in bathrooms, common areas, classrooms.
  • Traffic Management: Safety of car parks, drop-off zones, pedestrian walkways.

Expect notes, photos, and measurements. By law, they might ask the safety representative to join also.

Will they check my school’s safety documentation?

A significant part of the HSA visit involves a thorough review of all relevant health and safety documentation. Schools must ensure that the following documents are well-organised and readily accessible:

  • Health and Safety Policy: The overarching policy document outlining the school’s commitment to health and safety.
  • Risk Assessments: Detailed assessments identifying potential hazards and the measures taken to mitigate them (using the HSA’s own format for Risk Assessments in Schools).
  • Statutory Inspections: Certificates for passenger lifts, fire detection systems, boilers, smoke vents, gas proving systems and other statutory items.
  • Training Records: Evidence of health and safety training provided to staff.
  • Incident Reports: Records of any accidents, incidents, or near misses, along with the actions taken to address them.
  • Maintenance Records: Logs of regular maintenance and safety checks on equipment and facilities.

Having these documents up-to-date and well-maintained is crucial for demonstrating compliance during the inspection.

Will the HSA Inspector speak to my staff?

Inspectors may interview staff members to gauge their understanding and awareness of health and safety practices. These interviews help assess the effectiveness of the school’s training programmes and safety culture. Questions may also be asked about specific health and safety procedures, emergency evacuation procedures, and training received. Staff should be prepared to discuss how they implement and adhere to safety guidelines in their daily activities.

What kind of report should I expect?

At the end of the visit, the HSA Inspector will meet with you to review the items raised. Here, you will receive one or more of the following:

  • Report of Inspection: A report setting out areas for improvement and advice about health and safety at work, including a date by which you must respond in writing to confirm that the items raised have been addressed.
  • Improvement Notice: These notices indicate breaches of legislation and provide a specific period within which you must make the necessary improvements.
  • Prohibition Notice: Issued when there is a risk of serious personal injury, this notice will stop you from continuing the activity until it is made safe.


Understanding what to expect from an unannounced school visit from the Health & Safety Authority can significantly reduce stress and ensure a smooth inspection process. By preparing staff, maintaining up-to-date documentation, and fostering a culture of safety, schools can confidently demonstrate their commitment to health and safety standards.

The Ark HQ™ SafeSchool™ Program provides the support and resources necessary to help schools meet these standards and manage HSA visits effectively, for more information click here.

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The Ark HQ™

At The Ark HQ™, we understand that managing compliance obligations can be challenging. That’s why we offer school-friendly solutions that make compliance easy for school leaders and Boards of Management.