Head warns on safety liability
The headmaster of a prep school fined pound;40,000 after a worker was crushed to death demolishing a wooden classroom has issued a stark warning to other schools planning building work.
Moor Park School in Ludlow had to pay pound;25,000 plus pound;15,000 costs after it was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), having arranged for a team of inexperienced building workers to demolish the single-storey block.
The HSE said the charitable trust that runs the school had failed to look into the background of the self-employed builders, one of whom died when the building's 2.4-tonne roof collapsed on the men.
Shrewsbury Crown Court heard that the school had arranged for a self- employed builder to do the work, and he had contracted a team of four men to help.
The school failed to make any "reasonable enquiries" into the competence of the men to undertake the demolition work prior to the work beginning, the HSE said.
Jonathan Bartlett, the headmaster who took charge in 2008, a year after the accident, said his school had "dropped its guard" because it was a small demolition project and it had wrongly assumed the contractors could carry it out safely.
The school believed it had no cause for concern as it had employed the main contractor on a previous occasion without problems, he said. It pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
"We felt that due diligence to check into the background of the builders had been done," explained Mr Bartlett.
"But lessons have been learnt. You have a legal responsibility as a client to ask for a method statement, make a risk assessment of the work and to monitor the work, and we didn't do this well enough. It has lead to two years of time-consuming and stressful legal hearings.
"Schools need to make sure they have a member of staff responsible for this or employ a consultant. You need to make sure you have looked into the health and safety implications of being a client employing construction workers."
Mr Bartlett added that schools needed a designated member of staff or a consultant to deal with health and safety. He has since introduced a healthy and safety committee on the governing body.
HSE inspector Nic Rigby said: "Had Moor Park taken reasonable steps to properly consider the demolition work, they would have appointed a competent and experienced contractor and avoided the roof collapse.
"This awful event and the prosecution of the school must send a very clear message to all those who commission construction or demolition work."
Rosanne Musgrave, member support director for the Association of School and College Leaders, said maintained schools could face the same liabilities, especially if the governing body had a say in the awarding of the contract.
But she added: "You would expect that the HSE would also look to the local authority to carry some responsibility. This is a sober warning to all schools to be absolutely sure that contractors are qualified to carry out work and follow safety procedures, rather than just taking their word for it."
BREACHES CAN BE COSTLY
2009: Governing body of the Giles School in Boston, Lincolnshire, is fined pound;16,500 for breaches of health and safety law after a sixth-form art pupil's hands are severely damaged by plaster of Paris during a lesson.
2005: Blackpool Council is fined pound;15,000 after workers are exposed to asbestos at St Cuthbert's Primary. A full survey had been carried out, but it was not passed on to contractors.
2004: The private Norwich School is fined pound;15,000 for healthy and safety breaches relating to a chemistry lesson in which a 12-year-old boy is severely burned after reaching over a candle during an experiment.
- Original headline: Head warns on safety liability as prep fined over demolition death