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Record payout for lab injury to teacher

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 14 September, 2007 | By: Jonathan Milne

A GRAMMAR SCHOOL has agreed to pay £625,000 believed to be the biggest ever teacher compensation package to a former staff member who was permanently crippled by an electric shock in his science lab.

King Edward VI Grammar School in Louth, Lincolnshire, admitted liability this year after a three-year battle, the NASUWT teachers' union said.

The science teacher, aged 36 at the time of the incident, was believed to have been cleaning under a sink in his preparation room when his head came into contact with faulty wiring.

The union's research reveals a reality where schools often treat health and safety as a low priority. They fail to conduct regular electrical or maintenance checks. Nor do they provide regular safety briefings and fire drills.

The union said the injury had had a "devastating impact on his life". He is not expected to be able to work again.

He suffered severe brain injury and needs his wife to help him with basic day to-day activities. He displays no expression or emotional response and communicates monosyllabically.

King Edward VI is a foundation school, but buys into Lincolnshire council's insurance scheme. The insurers made the record payment.

Claire Hewitt, who is now the school's headteacher, confirmed that a negotiated settlement had been agreed.

She said: "I can confirm that the governors and staff take all matters relating to health and safety very seriously." The school has an active health and safety committee and policy, she said. "Checks are completed regularly, records maintained and prompt action taken to address any issues identified."

Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, said personal injury claims made up the bulk of compensation payments it negotiated.

"This is an enormous settlement. But when you think of the physical and mental damage the teacher has suffered, it pales into insignificance. The impact on his family, too, is enormous," she said.

"This underlines the importance of ensuring that health and safety issues are taken seriously in schools. But Health and Safety Executive budget cuts mean there will be fewer inspections, less enforcement, and therefore more payouts."

An HSE spokesman confirmed the agency would be cutting more than 300 jobs, but it hoped to protect frontline health and safety inspector jobs as far as possible.

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