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Safer Schools Bulletin September 2012

Legal Updates:

Wells Cathedral School (March 2012):

Wells Cathedral School has been fined after one of its employees fell two and half metres through a loft hatch, breaking a shoulder blade and hitting her head.

South Somerset and Mendip Magistrates' Court heard that on 29 July 2011, the member of school staff, who asked not to be named, had gone into an attic space next to her office to help a colleague folding storage boxes.

The attic had two access points, a door on the same level in the bursary, and another via a ladder in the library leading to a ceiling hatch. On turning to leave the attic, the injured worker inadvertently stepped onto the hatch, which gave way, causing her to fall to the library below.

During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, the court was told the injured woman's colleague had earlier been warned by a school facilities officer not to stand on the loft hatch as he felt it would not take a person's weight. The court heard though the injured worker had heard him warn her colleague about the hatch, she did not take in the information, as she had not planned to go into the attic at the time.

The HSE investigation into the incident found although the school had recognised there was a risk of falling through the hatch, no risk assessment had been carried out for working in the loft and no measures were in place to prevent members of staff from stepping onto the loft hatch.

HSE inspector James Lucas, who brought the prosecution, said after the sentencing:

"A member of the school's staff suffered a serious injury when she fell through the hatch, and the consequences could have been far worse.

"The school was obviously aware of the risk, as staff had been warned not to step on the hatch, and yet it failed to take simple measures to prevent such an incident occurring.

"The hatch didn't even need to be there as there was another form of access through the door on the same level. In the aftermath of the incident, the school boarded over the loft hatch, preventing anyone else falling through it, which is sensible but a little too late in this case."

Wells Cathedral School Ltd, of The Liberty, Wells, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £7,700 and £2,172 in costs.

(Health and Safety Executive by COI News and PR (South West))

NB: In the last 6 years there have been 5 deaths and over 3,000 injuries in the education sector alone due to falling from height.  Follow the risk assessments you have carried out, the hierarchy for managing risks from work at height and ensure you choose the right work equipment.

Safety failings led to asbestos exposure at Dorset school (July 2012):

The unsafe removal of asbestos insulation boards at a large independent school in Dorset led to several people being exposed to asbestos fibres, Dorchester Crown Court heard on the 13th July 2012.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Sherborne School and Peter Eldridge, the director of a company responsible for the refurbishment project, after an investigation found they had failed to identify and prevent the risk of asbestos exposure at the school.

Asbestos insulation boards were removed in an unsafe way, exposing building contractors and a teenage work experience student to asbestos fibres, and leaving them at risk of developing serious and potentially fatal diseases later in life.

The HSE investigation found that from the initial design stages in May 2008 right through to undertaking the construction work in July 2009, there was inadequate planning and a failure to carry out a full asbestos survey.

This was despite the fact that a sample taken from the building in 2008 had identified its presence and asbestos had previously been removed from other parts of the school. An asbestos register was also kept for the school buildings.

The court heard that neither Mr Eldridge nor the school had appointed a Construction Design and Management (CDM) coordinator for the refurbishment project, despite it being a requirement of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for a project of this size.

The CDM coordinator would have ensured a full refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey was completed in advance of construction work. Licensed asbestos contractors could then have been appointed to safely remove it.

Sherborne School pleaded guilty breaching Regulation 4(8) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Regulation 14 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 at a previous hearing before Weymouth Magistrates. The school was fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs.

Peter Eldridge, of Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset, also pleaded guilty at Weymouth Magistrates to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act for his neglect as an individual director. He also pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 11(3) and 18(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for contributing to the failings of his company. He was fined a total of £10,000 with costs of £6,000.

Speaking after the prosecution, HSE Inspector Joanna Teasdale, said:

"Both Peter Eldridge and Sherborne School knew about the risks posed by the presence of asbestos in the school buildings, and yet they failed to manage the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres during the refurbishment project.

"As a result several people, including at least one teenager, were put at unnecessary risk. In being exposed to asbestos fibres they could develop a serious and potentially fatal illness.

"Although Sherborne School was the client, it still had a duty to manage the control of asbestos on its site, and to be aware of the requirements of removing asbestos safely.  "This incident and the risk to those involved could have been easily avoided if competent people had been engaged during the planning of the refurbishment project to advise the school, such as a CDM coordinator."

Exposure to asbestos fibres is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK; it is responsible for around 4,000 deaths a year. For more information on asbestos, visit

(Health and Safety Executive by COI News and PR (South West))

NB: Ensure you have an up to date Asbestos Management Plan and Survey. If you are to complete works within the school you must ensure that the contractor is competent and is made aware of the location of any asbestos via the plan and survey.  If you are in any doubt concerning the plan, survey or competence of a contractor - please contact Asset Management and Health and Safety for further advice.

Accidents and Incidents:

The accidents from 2011/12 were compared with the accidents from 2010/11. The statistics indicated that there has been a 7% reduction in the number of accidents reported year on year.

The main accident causation in 2011/12 was 'slips, trips and falls' which has shown an 11% increase when compared to the previous year.

During 2011/12 - 35% of all accidents were due to slips, trips and falls. Just by carrying out a few simple, cost effective solutions not only can we all reduce this figure, but also the pain and loss that these preventable accidents cause.

Policy Update:

In order to ensure that all schools are up to date with current legislation, are aware of their responsibilities and highlight areas of concern that have developed in schools over the last 4 years, I am currently updating the Health and Safety Policy for schools. Before the new policy is available it will be provided to all schools in draft form for comment before its release.

Head teachers or Managers should ensure that any paper or electronic copies of the policy which are retained on their premises are up to date and are made available to all stakeholders.  Any future changes made to the policy will be publicised via the Health and Safety for Schools webpage.

NB: The Health and Safety Policy for Schools should be used in conjunction with the South Tyneside Council Health and Safety Manual.

Help and Feedback:

If you have any questions about the issues raised or if I can help in any other way, please do not hesitate to contact the Health and Safety Section.

We would also welcome your feedback generally on this publication and any key topics you would like to see in the next edition.

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