Places of worship are exempt from health and safety, right?
In a word, NO. A place of worship is still fully regulated in health and safety legislation and is listed on the HSE web site as being under local authority jurisdiction alongside offices, shops, hotels etc. https://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/authority.htm.
This includes requiring a health and safety policy (written if there are 5 or more ‘employees’), risk assessments and also premises considerations such as a fire risk assessment. Specific guidance is written on conducting a fire risk assessment in both small and medium places of assembly https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/422195/9294_Small_Mediumt_v2.pdf and separate guidance on large places of assembly where over 300 people attend https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/14889/fsra-large-assembly.pdf. Even in the unlikely event that no paid staff run the place of assembly, the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 would still be in effect.
The additional fact that specific guidance has been produced by HSE under current COVID-19 restriction for safe use of places of worship and special religious services and gatherings is a significant reminder that places of worship still have the same duties under health and safety law and associated regulations.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 risk assessment should be produced which cover all reasonably foreseeably risks. These should be performed by a competent person and suitable control measures should be implemented. Hazards can cover a wide range of ‘reasonably foreseeable risks’ which can include asbestos, fire, manual handling, slips, trips and falls, working at height end even hazardous substances (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health or COSHH) which includes a legionella risk assessment. Specific regulations cover each aspect of health and safety and hazard control which is why a competent person is required to complete the risk assessments and advise on suitable control measures. Events and significant activities either in or outside the building may also require individual consideration.
The basic requirements are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and set out fundamental duties on employers, employees and self-employed persons who have a duty of care to anyone who may be affected by their acts (or omissions) as part of their activities. Further information on taking the right approach can be found at https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/index.htm.