Safety, the Law, and Your Church

Your church not only has a sanctuary, but it also is a sanctuary: a safe place where people can take shelter from the trials and tribulations of the world.

It also needs to be a physically safe place, and sometimes it isn’t. People young and old use churches, and many different kinds of activities take place in churches. We may think about people sitting quietly communing with God, but we also can find activities ranging from basketball games to building parties in churches.  

Think of all the safety issues your church could conceivably face:

  • Old cribs or toys may have toxic paints, small parts, or other threats to the children who use your church nursery.
  • Older congregants might have trouble getting safely up and down stairs.
  • Choir members could trip on robes and fall as they climb stairs.
  • Candles or oil lamps could pose a fire hazard.
  • Careless food preparation could turn a potluck dinner or ice cream social into a food poisoning scene.
  • Someone could fall on a sharp corner of a pew or table and be hurt.

God usually protects us from these and other dangers, but there is another danger for churches. You could be held legally responsible for injuries someone received on your premises.

OSHA requirements don’t apply to religious activities, but if you run a business in your church — including a church school or thrift shop — that changes things. Get to know the rules so you can be confident.

Fire

Your church must have labeled fire exits, fire extinguishers, and a written plan for leaving the building safely in case of fire. If you have a kitchen, you must have smoke alarms as well. The fire inspector can help you determine the number of exits and extinguishers required for the size of your church.

No OSHA requirements? Consider following these rules anyway to avoid a preventable tragedy.

Walkways

Churches sometimes have a lot going on in a small space, and things can pile up. If your storage rooms are packed to the rafters and costumes and vases spill into the hallways, you can easily find your self going against OSHA rules. All walkways the church and those coming up to the doors must be clean, tidy, and dry. Storage rooms, too.

Stairs must have railings and walkways can’t be blocked. All these rules are intended to avoid having people trip and fall, or having things fall on people.

Equipment

Things like power tools, laundry facilities, electric outlets, kitchen gear, and any other kind of equipment workers might use must be safe in and good working order to guard the well being of church workers.

Churches are exempt from Workers Compensation in some states. If your state is not one of them, make sure your coverage is up to date.

Training

One of the most overlooked aspects of workplace safety is one that is often overlooked. Without training in how to use equipment safely and in how to respond to emergencies, the people of your church may be in danger.

Have a complete first aid kit, and invite an expert in to train staff in how to use it.

It might have occurred to you by now that even if your church doesn’t run a business, it wouldn’t hurt to take some of these precautions in your church. When you need new church furniture, be sure to talk with Born Again Pews about how to install your pews safely, too.