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No apologies - we should all be concerned about staff safety

Lecturer Gary Baird's accident (FE Focus, April 11) serves as a reminder to all of us that colleges are large and complex organisations where protecting staff - let alone students - is something that can't be left to chance.

It was brave of him to go through with giving evidence about how he was injured by acid and relive what must have been a very upsetting incident. He has helped bring the importance of good health and safety practice into the spotlight.

As a college manager with health and safety responsibilities, I have been concerned that staff welfare can easily be overlooked as we focus, understandably, on the business of looking after our students. The influx of 14- to 16-year-olds on vocational programmes has increased the sense that accidents are waiting to happen.

The fact is that health and safety is everyone's responsibility. While I applaud FE Focus and the Health and Safety Executive for giving us a chance to ask questions anonymously on this subject, I think we need a system which allows everyone to raise health and safety concerns as a matter of routine.

Often, people feel silly pointing up health and safety worries, and are afraid of being seen as in some way difficult or obstructive. If they do bring things to your attention, they use phrases such as "I hope you don't think I'm making a fuss", or "I'm sorry to bother you", when in fact what they are doing is taking an interest in the working environment for the benefit of their colleagues. These people may have spotted something which managers would be only too happy to know about.

After all, no one person sees what's going on in every corner of the building, and none of us want to see staff - or students - coming to harm.

Senior FE college manager, London. Name and address withheld.

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