Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Safe working conditions

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The fact that the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan won the right to sue the Ministry of Defence for negligence for sending them to war seems to have no relevance to schools or colleges. However it may act as a reminder that employers are expected to ensure that employees are adequately protected and that the workplace is safe.

At a time when schools and colleges are taking an increasing number of students who may be high risk, it is important to give consideration to the safety of staff.

This will normally only involve a periodic evaluation of the safety of the site, the potential danger from gang members or disturbed students, and the circumstances under which staff work (for instance, an isolation room in a mobile classroom). The employer is not expected to guard against risks that are wholly unpredictable.

Likewise, if a parent is known to be violent, the school is required to do something to lessen the danger to staff.

It is worth ensuring that risk assessments have a human component and these are acted on in exactly the same way as risks from machinery or toxic substances. The risks may be less predictable, but this does not mean that they should be ignored. Doing so could be very expensive.

If a local authority uses its power to direct a school to take a student, it is incumbent on the school to get sufficient information from the local authority to make a reasonable risk assessment and it may be that such a direction would be seen to be negligent or unreasonable if risks were not adequately identified or if sufficient additional resources were not made available to create a safe working environment for staff.

Clearly it is better for ASCL branch secretaries to negotiate a protocol with the local authority than for individual schools to have to initiate legal action on their own, especially after the event.

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