How to manage construction risk for academies

  • Many academies look to refurbish their facilities during the quieter summer months
  • Construction activity in schools requires careful health and safety planning
  • Zurich Municipal can offer expert risk management and insurance advice to schools looking to undertake building works

With funding tight in the education sector, investment to rebuild and improve local authority schools across the UK has dipped in recent years.

But the rise of academy schools – now making up 56% of all secondary schools and 13% of primaries in the UK – could lead to a new wave of school building projects. With more freedom over their budgets, and access to government funding for improvement works, many academies have the cash and enthusiasm to refurbish and rebuild their facilities.

But even those schools that don’t have the budgets, or inclination, to undertake large-scale projects, must undertake essential maintenance and repair work from time to time. Most of this is often carried out over school holidays – where disruption can be kept to a minimum – but sometimes, especially for larger projects, construction activity can spill into term time.

“If building work is still going on when term starts, it is essential that adequate barriers are erected between the works and any school activities, particularly during break times,” says Lynne Franklin Senior Property Product Underwriter. “Construction sites are often viewed as alternative adventure playgrounds by some children.”

When an entire school is rebuilt, it is usually sited at a different location within the school grounds and uses the existing building until the new one is ready. Other projects, which are often as complex, can see schools modify and extend existing buildings.

Making construction work safer

Although the contractor manages the health and safety and security aspects of the construction activities in any project, the school must still consider health and safety matters themselves, and put plans in place to deal with considerable disruption to the normal day-to-day running of the school.

From ensuring the continued viability of fire escape routes and gathering points, to making sure that staff and public car parking spaces and school bus drop-off and pick-up areas are safe, schools need to continually carry out risk assessments throughout the lifecycle of a project, to keep on top of health and safety requirements.

If building work is still going on when term starts, it is essential that adequate barriers are erected between the works and any school activities, particularly during break times

Lynne Franklin Senior Property Product Underwriter

They also need to keep a careful eye on changing access arrangements for construction companies and site boundaries that may periodically move.

A certain degree of inconvenience is unavoidable during a major construction project. The level of disruption likely to be experienced by schools will depend upon the scale and type of building operations, their proximity to school activities, the time at which the works are carried out, and the constraints of the existing buildings and site.

For instance, dust and dirt from a construction site can give rise to medical complaints, and it may be appropriate for schools to arrange for additional cleaning during a project. Noise, too, can be distracting and contractors should be excluded from undertaking certain noisy activities during particular periods such as exams.

Increased insurance risks

When improvements to a school include an extension to an existing structure, this usually increases insurance risk to the existing building.

“For instance, where hot works are taking place on the construction site, the existing building is more prone to fire damage,” says Lynne. “And if construction work is being done on an existing building, there will be additional concerns over storm and flood exposures.

“There is also a potentially higher hazard of arson, theft or malicious damage – as although the existing building should be properly secured, it may still be easy to access. Schools must always notify their insurer of any construction work planned, however small, so they have a clear view on what their insurance policy covers.

Zurich Municipal is one of the leading providers of risk and insurance solutions for schools, and is always on hand to help its customers through expert guidance on simple repair and maintenance works or assisting a school when it commits to a major rebuilding project.