Health and safety made clear

11th February 2000 at 00:00
I AM pleased to see The TES helping to raise the profile of health and safety management in schools (TES, January 21). However, some clarification is needed on the legal responsibilities of governors.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and subsidiary legislation put the primary duties for managing health and safety on employers. Despite the changes in the way schools are funded and managed, health and safety legislation has not changed, and if employers fail in these duties they could be open to prosecution.

Insurance can protect against civil claims, but cannot protect against criminal prosecution.

In foundation and voluntary-aided schools where the governing body is the employer, the position is straightforward: governors are legally responsible for all aspects of health and safety management.

In community and voluntary controlled schools, however, the LEA is the employer, and the role of governors is different. The authority must take appropriate measures to ensure that health and safety in schools is effectively managed. This requires a written policy and management arrangements. It must also be responsible for carryin out risk assessments. This function can be delegated to schools, but if so, the authorities must ensure that those carrying out the assessments are competent.

The role of governors is important in the day-to-day management of health and safety. They should ensure that the authority's policy and arrangements are implemented, and co-operate with the authority on issues such as accident reporting, inspections and safety training.

Legislation also puts additional duties on governors when they have control of school premises. These responsibilities relate to the safety of staff, pupils and visitors. Authorities can take action against governors who fail in this duty.

Governors, then, have a key role in helping the authority comply with its legal duties. While functions and money may be delegated, ultimate responsibility for health and safety in community and voluntary controlled schools may not.

I recommend the Health and Safety Commission publication Health and safety guidance for school governors and members of school boards.

John Cullen

Chair, Education Services Advisory Council

Health and Safety Commission

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