Work placements (OBUHSN-43)


This Health & Safety Notice should be read and understood by all employees of Oxford Brookes University. Where appropriate it should also be brought to the attention of the members of the student body.

Heath and Safety is only one aspect of the support and development of students on placement and thus it needs to be an integrated part rather than a stand-alone part of the whole experience.

First hand experience of the world of work is a valuable part of a student's education. This Health & Safety Notice deals with one of the ways they get such experience - Work Placements. On Work Placement schemes students do a particular job (or range of jobs) more or less as would regular employees.

There can be no guarantee that people in any work environment may not suffer harm. This document should however raise awareness of the factors that can reduce the probability of accidents or ill-health occurring in a workplace. It will help the placement organiser(s) make informed decisions on the health and safety issues.

Legal requirements

The UCEA Health & Safety Guidance for the placement of Higher Education Students 2009 is the basis for this Health & Safety Notice.

The University has duties to its employees, students, visitors and contractors. These duties extend to ensuring that we conduct our undertaking (which includes organising work experience) in such a way so far as is reasonably practicable that non employees (students) are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The duty extends to assessing the risks that arise from work experience placements and to identifying what must be done to comply with health and safety law. The relevant legislation is The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

The following undesirable outcomes could arise from a placement:

  • The student could be injured or suffer ill health as a result of working at a placement provider
  • The student could be injured or suffer ill health while on placement but not as a result of working at a placement provider
  • The actions of the student could cause injury or ill health to others, damage to property, or loss of income to a business.

If any of these were to occur, criminal and/or civil action might be taken against the student, the placement provider or its employees, or the HEI or its employees, depending on the circumstances.

For placements outside the UK, the criminal liabilities on each party will be a matter for the enforcing authorities and the courts in both the UK and in the country where the placement occurs. With regard to placements abroad, implementation of this guidance on sensible risk management will address criminal liability under UK law (Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974) for non-employees.

Implementation of this guidance will also provide evidence in defence of charges of negligence under UK Corporate Manslaughter or Gross Negligence Manslaughter legislation.


Placement organisers such as lecturers, other members of the University or employees of an independent placing agency must take reasonable care of themselves and of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.

The Dean of Faculty or Director of Directorate cannot delegate their legal responsibilities to those individuals organising placements. Functions can be delegated. The responsibility for meeting legal duties remains with the Dean or Director.

Placement providers must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. This includes assessing the risks employees are exposed to at work and providing training, particularly for new employees. This must include students on work placements. Students on work placements have the same protection under health and safety law as employees.

Independent placing agencies have duties in respect of work placements effectively identical to those of Oxford Brookes University.

Students participating in work experience have the same duties as other employees in the workplace. They must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and of the health and safety of others who may be affected by their actions. They must also co-operate with the placement provider in complying with the provider's legal duties.

The risk management approach to work placements

Placement providers have a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of work placements students during their placement. This will require that a placement organiser has assessed the suitability of the placement. They need to be sure that placements meet appropriate standards of health, safety and welfare and that placement provider’s know about their health and safety duties.

Risk management principles provide a framework for the general guidance and control measures that are appropriate for managing the diversity of placements, issues, and risks associated with the broad range of potential placements and potential scenarios.

The benefits of a risk-based approach are that requirements for lower risk placements are minimised, whilst resources are concentrated on those placements likely to be higher risk. The risk management approach below must be followed.

  • Review and approval of placements
  • Processes for raising and resolving problems
  • Planning for contingencies
  • Ensuring each party understands their roles and responsibilities
  • Preparation of students
  • Training of staff
  • A risk assessment and review process for student placements must be implemented.

The following six health and safety factors applicable to all placements must be considered in the risk assessment and review process.

Training and supervision of students

The student should be prepared as far as practically possible for their placement. In particular, the student should have information about relevant health and safety risk factors and control measures such that they are in a position to understand the risks to their health and safety and can make informed judgements. This is particularly the case where the student is considering or being offered a placement in a higher risk environment. Placements can be used to develop the student’s ability to undertake their own risk assessments.

The workplace placement organiser must ask for details of the health and safety information, instruction, training and supervision that will be given to students.

This Health & Safety Notice must be brought to the attention of all students undertaking work placements. This must be done so that the students understand their legal obligations to the employers, as well as the employers and/or the University's responsibilities to the students.

A visit to the placement providers premises will only be necessary if the risk assessments indicates this.

Placement organisers should look at the work to be done by the work placement students. Where appropriate they could usefully ask about personal protective equipment in appropriate sizes and/or training in the correct use of personal protective equipment. Similarly, organisers can ask if there are health risks associated with the work and if such risks have been assessed by the placement provider.

Training of staff (placement organisers)

Placement organisers can seek advice from any of the specialist officers of the University listed in OBUHSN-04. The Safety Officer or his/her nominee and the Occupational Health Advisor are also available for general advice or specific training requirements

Work placement agreements

It is good practice for placement organisers, placement providers and the participating students to enter into a formal written agreement about work placements. Such agreements have an important role in ensuring the maximum educational benefit and ensuring good standards of health and safety.

The purpose of the written communication is:

  • To clarify expectations with regard to health and safety related issues for the student, the placement provider and the HEI

  • To seek responses to specific questions raised by your risk assessment and control measures.

Student support

When the student is out on placement, responsibility for looking after their health and safety rests with the student and with the placement provider.

Students should raise any concerns in the first place with their workplace supervisor and then either through the management line or with the Health & Safety contact. If issues are not resolved, then the student should be able to raise the matter with the Placement Organiser by whatever process have established.

Arrangements for placement tutors, usually for academic assessment reasons, to visit the student at the placement provider’s premises may be required. These visits can also be used as one of the processes for assessing whether there are any health and safety issues. Placement tutors should be aware of their surroundings during these visits and raise any matters of concern that they observe with the placement provider. The level of expertise with regard to health and safety that may be expected of a placement tutor will vary depending on their experience, training and discipline. For example, subject-based experience is important for industrial and medical placements.

Effective debriefing of the student(s) should be undertaken to find out possible health and safety problems and reinforce their knowledge of health and safety. Students work diaries or logs can be used as a basis for comparing health and safety issues in their different placements.

Student health

Students, placement organisers and placement providers undertaking work placements must give careful consideration to the health of the of the participants

As part of the risk assessment process the student must consider the need for them to consult with their own GP before commencing the work placement depending on any known medical conditions.

The student must also consider disclosing any known medical conditions which may affect their ability to work safely to the placement organiser and/or the placement provider.

Issue: 1 May 2011