The changing landscape of education in the last few years has seen a shift in health and safety responsibilities particularly following the establishment of academies, multi-academy trusts and free schools.
There were almost 5,000 injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last year in the education sector including one fatality. The majority of those resulted in an absence from work in excess of 7 days for the injured party. The cost of such incidents is significant, not only in terms of covering absence, but also management time investigating the accident and dealing with related liability claims.
The HSE have also undertaken a number of prosecutions against schools and local authorities in respect of health and safety breaches in education establishments. In January 2016 a Hertfordshire school was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £90,693 costs after pleading guilty to breaching safety rules. This followed a serious accident when a swing collapsed causing injuries to a 13-year-old pupil resulting in paralysis. New sentencing guidelines which came into effect on 1 February 2016 are likely to significantly increase fines for health and safety breaches with the courts considering the turnover or its equivalent of the offender. With school budgets in excess of £1m, especially for multi-academy trusts, any safety breaches could result in a significant fine.
Legal experts at Jacksons Law Firm are working with the education sector to assist them in implementing systems to eliminate or reduce health and safety risks as far as possible. Whilst serious accidents and fatalities are rare in the sector, schools must ensure they have an effective health and safety management systems in place.
Mark Stouph, Consultant at Jacksons Health & Safety says, “The responsibility for the management of health and safety in schools rests with the employer, that is the local authority in respect of community voluntary controlled and maintained schools. It’s also important to remember that teachers, and classroom assistants like all employers have a duty to look after their own and others. Nobody wants to see a child or member of staff injured or fall ill due to something that is so easily avoided.”
Mark Foster, Partner and Head of Employment says, “There are broader implications that health & safety alone for schools when accidents arise in the workplace. The amount of time and money lost directly from absenteeism and indirectly in the management of absence is a further significant motivating factory to encourage school to put health &safety at the top of the agenda.”
Carole Johnson, Finance Director at Polam Hall School in Darlington says, “Children need the freedom to learn at school but in a safe environment. Having practical safety policies and procedures in place ensures that our pupils can develop in a safe environment and be risk aware, a skill which will equip them for the rest of their lives.”
Polam Hall School and Sixth Form, based in Darlington, is the first state-funded Free School in the UK to offer continuous co-education for children aged 4-19, alongside boarding. The School currently has 600 pupils and can accommodate up to 60 UK and EU boarders.
Jacksons Law Firm is hosting a FREE seminar to offer advice to those working in the education sector on Thursday 16th March at Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham. If you are interested in attending please contact Karen Robinson on 01642 356 509 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.