Protected space

6th October 1995 at 01:00
Clare Dean and Frances Rafferty's report "Protests loom over class sizes" (TES, September 8) states that the Department for Education and Employment is responsible for school premises - they are not covered by the Health and Safety Executive and, apart from the use of machinery in craft, design and technology lessons, are exempt from health and safety laws.

This comes as something of a surprise to me and no doubt to the HSE, which has been responsible for the enforcement of health and safety legislation in school premises since 1974.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 made it clear that school premises, staff and pupils are not exempt from health and safety laws. I appreciate that due to the many changes in the management of schools since 1974, some confusion has existed. In Devon, as in other local education authorities, a great deal of time and effort is put into making all the parties involved aware of who is responsible for what and advising on how best to discharge these responsibilities.

Recent health and safety law is even more specific. In their guidance on the workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the Health and Safety Commission states: "These regulations apply to a very wide range of workplaces, not only factories, shops and offices, but for example, schools, hospitals, hotels and places of entertainment." These regulations contain a wide range of premises-related requirements including minimum requirements for room dimensions and space.

Having investigated a number of serious accidents both in industrial workplaces and schools, I am painfully aware of the tragic consequences of confusion over responsibilities. The TES has carried some excellent articles on health and safety responsibilities in education which have undoubtedly reduced some of this confusion.

CHRIS DOAK

Health and Safety Office

Devon County Council

County Hall, Exeter

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