Please, Miss, don't climb on the desks

School staff teetering on desks to pin up displays are putting themselves more at risk than window cleaners and shipbuilders, a report finds.

Research by System Concept on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) looked at how people in a range of industries were coping with recently introduced legislation on working at height.

The education sector stood out for its lack of awareness of the risk involved in tasks such as putting up wall displays, cleaning ceiling-mounted projectors and opening high windows.

The authors visited two primary schools and found staff climbed on desks, tables and chairs, rather than using ladders or scaffold towers.

In phone interviews with managers, 12 headteachers who were questioned were the least confident in whether they were complying with regulations.

Sectors such as retail, window cleaning and ship building all scored better for their awareness and compliance.

Five people working in education have died from falls at work in the past six years and 3,000 have been injured.

Case studies of school accidents on the HSE website include a teacher who fell when she climbed into a wheelbarrow.

A teacher who breaks a limb can cost employers pound;3,700 in replacement teacher costs alone.

The report recommends that inspectors assess a school's awareness of health and safety. Laura Peebles, one of the report's authors, said: "Education scored low on confidence and knowledge of the regulations compared to other sectors. Schools and local authorities should be made aware of all the guidance available on working at height."

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said the schools and local authorities were responsible for health and safety. "However, if inspectors saw a teacher standing on a desk, or toilets in bad condition, they would comment on it in the report," she said.

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