Under the permission of the head pastor of Ealing Christian Centre, Northfield, London, I was granted the permission to do my practical placement with the church in December 2008. I was directed to the staff in charge of the church’s health and safety whose induction given to me in December 2008 and willingness to supervise me in my forty hour practical project scheduled to start on 11th January 2009 was beneficial to me. Since the church building and it surrounding environment are places where people often meet to fellowship, it is very important to ensure the safety of these places such as the Church, the Church halls, churchyards and ground are safe for worshipers and staff to use. If these places are ignored of assessing their risk of usage they can cause serious pain and suffering to people which may often disrupt the peaceful running of the church and its activities. Risk assessment by definition is suggested to be a progressive stage in risk management process, which determines measurable characteristic value of hazards in relation to definite situation and the identification of the threat. And in this practical reflective presentation, I will base the health and safety risk assessment I conducted in Ealing Christian Centre on the Systems put in place for safer place of worship as briefed by my supervisor at induction, and the Daily Time log on my observations.
Systems Put In Place for Safer Place of Worship
Security of the Church Building
Ealing Christian Centre as I learned from my induction day, is a big building used as place of worship for both able and disabled adults, young people and children of various age groups. The boundaries of the church premises are clearly defined with concert walls and good wooden fencing. The door ways are protected such that they do not give cover to intruders. When not in use, all the entrances and windows are securely locked. There is no easy access from points such as lower adjacent structures, compounds, walls or pipes to the roof and has an intruder alarm installed there. I also learned that their musical instruments, computers and private files are securely protected from thieves. Vehicle access to the church grounds as I learned was controlled only on Sundays and any other major event in the church. There is a gate that is locked to prevent access when the parking spaces are full.
Theft and Damage
There are storerooms for securing valuable items such as audio, visual and musical instruments when they are not in use. The church has offices which are also locked when not in use but all staff and members are advised to safeguard their personal belongings in the church. Cash is counted in a secure room out of sight, removed from the premises overnight and holdings are kept in the minimum, stored in safe installed for small valuable items. The offering how ever is not adequately protected from theft since the offering basket allows every hand to reach the collected money at its base. Items that could be used as missiles to commit damage are removed from around the building, and refuse stored safely away in metal containers from vulnerable areas.
Management and Practice
The church has no specific annual budget for crime and vandalism prevention measures separate from any general repair funds. Even though staffs have suggested people should report acts of vandalism immediately on recovery, most people do not. However damages are quickly repaired to discourage further similar acts while criminal acts reported automatically to the police if known. Details of the nature, time, place and cost of theft or vandalism are to be recorded in logbooks but mostly it is not done. Advice has been sort from the Police Crime Prevention Office, Fire Prevention Office, the Insurer and the Security Industry so; there is detailed procedure for recording and investigating fires. The community through the police and Church watch scheme are involved in the in safeguarding the church building. But for security reasons there is no procedure put in place for the police and fire service to contact the church key holders in the occurrence of incidents in the building.
Other Established Methods
There is a proper procedure for keys control and an established procedure for locking up the church. When the building is being locked after activities, the stewards are to inspect the kitchen, toilet, and store rooms to make sure no one is hiding in the building. I learned that the locks of the church are periodically checked to avoid duplication of the keys. Visitors who come to the building are urged to use a particular door that has been signed, but there is no means to monitor the arrival and departure of visitors during church service times and so visitors sometimes wander into the unauthorized areas such as children’s classrooms and office area. There is no arrangement set in place for surveillance during outside opening times except during special events such as youth programmes. This, I find suggest inadequate patrols and checks from the church officials. However, there is an external security lightening system provided to light up the premises during the evenings. Natural surveillance from the area around the building provides a beef-up security for the premises. There is a caretaker living on the site, whose house is readily accessible. When contractors are working in the building, extra security fitting safety and fire precautions are taken by Christians known by the church. The parties involved meet on the site to identify hazards and correct methods of necessary to handle them during work on site. Most of the people who work alone in the building are the people working in the Prayer Centre and enough provision has been made for their personal safety in the building. During organised children’s events, a register of the children in the building are kept while child protection policies are enforced. Children in the building especially on Sunday services are protected from members of the public who access the building to look for someone or join worshipers. I further learned that all internal fire doors are fitted with self closing devices and labeled to be kept closed with adequate training to relevant people in locating escape routes. The fire escape routes and exits are sometimes obstructed by staff and so memos are often sent to all staff as reminders to keep them clear of obstructions. The floors surfaces are free from tripping and slipping risks and emergency exit doors are free to open from inside the building without using keys. The emergency lighting systems are installed in correct working order and tested weekly.
My Observation from (11/01/2009-19/04/2009)
I was welcome and introduced to the stewards group for the mornings safety briefings. I went with the supervisor to check the fire exit by the pulpit. On our way I observed that there were some parked chairs obstructing the exit. She notified one of the leaders to see to the removal of the obstruction. I came to help with the arrangement of the seats for the congregation, where I learned how to arrange the seats in their safety locks. A lady asked the supervisor not to use the chairs safety locks in the areas where the elderly people sit because they were not comfortable with the restriction of the chair to one place. The supervisor then explained to her the importance of the safety lock in time of emergency. She told her that it was a standard requirement by the health and safety rules and the purpose was to prevent the chair becoming hazards in case of evacuating the building on emergency. Commitment and response by some stewards to duty, fire alarm testing time and drill was an issue. I understood that the expected number of stewards for Sunday service was twenty-one; but an average of nine seems to be dedicated to take fire drill by 09:30. Most of them arrive after worship had begun. The possible problem I observed was that most of them miss team briefing and go on the floor without team discussions and so might not be able to react according to team plan in time of emergency. This made me to learn how important team briefing is. Parental control of children before children were separated for safety keeping during service was also an issue since some parents leave their children aged between three to five years to wander dangerously around the information area of the auditorium near where the reserved chairs are parked. The heights at which these chairs are parked in the information area are of much concern. I found that they are parked over the required number of twelve making them unstable and could easily fall over a child who may playfully stray into the store or an adult who may go there to pick a chair since there is no door at the entrance. In comparism to other churches I had visited, the reserved chair store house was securely locked. From this I learned that children should not be left on their own before they are separated to safety. After the service the stewards checked all the exits and locked them.
I visited the non-English speaking evening service. I discussed with my supervisor how safe it was for those who could not read English to escape in times of emergency? She explained to me that safety signs included pictures illustrating the written instructions which could help people who could not read English writings to follow the instruction in case of emergency. I also observed at a point that two groups (the singing team and the Bible college students) have separate meetings on same day. There was no security at the door to question the purpose of all those who came through the door. The safety of staffs’ children waiting for their parent was of another concern. In the closed reception I saw some children sitting alone in the dimly lit quiet office. Those who entered into the building rand the door bell from outside the reception door and called their names and they were opened from inside the office without any identity check. This suggests that anybody could follow a genuine person coming into the building through the same door into the reception which could easily be opened from inside when access is gained into the reception. In the main auditorium was also another issue of concern on cables of cleaning equipment running across the auditorium floor without any warning signs. Here also, I saw member of staff children playing in a dimly lit isolated area while their parent was busily cleaning out their sight. The storage of chemicals used for cleaning has been provided with a lock but chemicals is left unlocked to easy access to any one including children who may stray into the cupboard. I discussed the issue with my supervisor form which I learned that there is a problem of supportive agreement and commitment among the stewards and some staff concerning health and safety on the floor, which makes the supervisor’s work very difficult in area of house-keeping, security of staff, worshipers and children.
There were times when fire alarm was scheduled to be tested but was not done for the thought and feeling of the discomfort in interrupting church service. I discussed the emergency lighting system with the supervisor and I was shown how they light automatically from a standby barberry power in the event of power cut. The head steward was not in by the time worship started so the fire alarm was not tested. I had a chat with one of the choristers about how safe she felt when on stage; she said lead wires running across the state during worship time made her feel unsafe. From foyer, I observed that door security was of another concern. Once worshipers enter the building they move around without being monitored. I took some time to observe how some worshipers move around in the foyer. I saw a worshiper squeezing himself through a door to the foyer. My curiosity was aroused to find out the safety of the area to which that door led to. I went through the exit leading to the balcony from the foyer and went through the door and headed to the staircase. I realised that the area was quite and secluded and emergency doors there. The place could be a safe hiding place for anyone with the thought of doing harm in the building. I found two children on the stairs that were vulnerable and could easily be victimised in this secluded area since the attacker could easily escape through the emergency exit out the building. I also observed a woman with mental health issues entering the church and I prompted the attention of an steward and my supervisor. The supervisor said sometimes they come there regularly and when they sit at the main auditorium they employ a steward to sit with them. After service, I observed the lady with the mental health issues walking among children unsupervised in the foyer with children running around. No steward seemed to be trying to control the children from running around. I asked my supervisor if the stewards had any role to play in controlling children from running around. My supervisor took me the door of the stewards’ briefing room and showed me the notice pasted there that. Part of their responsibility after church was to see to it that children are not running around. But to my surprise some of the stewards did not even know what was on the notice pasted there. The supervisor sent two stewards out to control the children from running around. But, the stewards went into the main auditorium and sublimed amongst the crowd. On the day of water baptism, I went round the foyer to see if there was any way to the balcony. The doors were safely locked. In both male and the female changing room, the baptized were given support safely to dry them self and change clothes. I observed some level of risks with the worshipers being baptised by immersion in water and the baptizers in the auditorium. Only one person baptised 25 people, some of them who might be almost twice the height and weight of the baptizer. This could strain his ribs and back. Some stewards left leaving the remaining work load of locking up for the committed few. I realised that there was the need for Church workers to be aware of their skill, commitments and knowledge of their work and to work as thought they are working for Christ (John 9:4).
From this practical attachment, I learned the importance of risk assessments in the church environment. I have also learned that despite all the safety measures the church had put in place for the worshipers and staffs to be safe in the building, personal disagreements among some staff and various voluntary workers of the various church departments to implementation of safety measures play major contributing factors that create hazardous circumstances for both children and adult in the Church. This has made me to understand how the effectiveness of good team work in the church environment can affect the health, safety and the security of people in the church.