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April 11, 2012

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Teachers condemn health and safety cuts as “reckless”

The lives of children and adults are being put at risk as a result of the Government’s continual proclamations that a more ‘common-sense’ approach to health and safety be taken in schools.
 
This assertion formed part of a motion carried at the annual conference of the NASUWT – the largest teachers’ union – over the weekend.
 
The motion slammed the Government’s decision, based on Lord Young’s report in 2010, to redefine schools and colleges as ‘low-risk’ environments – noting that serious health and safety risks exist in schools and colleges, including exposure to work-related stressors, excessive working hours, bullying and harassment, asbestos and excessive temperatures. As a ‘low-risk’ workplace, schools and colleges are likely to encounter fewer health and safety inspections by regulators.
 
The motion also criticised the dilution of important guidance for schools on a range of matters, including the management of educational visits and pupil behaviour. In respect of the former, it deplored “the misleading claims made by some ministers that teachers have nothing to fear if a pupil dies, or is injured, as a result of participating in educational activity sanctioned by the school and where the teacher has exercised common sense”.
 
According to Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, the guidance on school trips – which was condensed last year from about 150 pages to a mere eight, as part of the Government’s drive to reduce paperwork and red tape – could not only make teachers more vulnerable to prosecution or civil litigation but actually have the opposite effect of dissuading teachers from undertaking excursions.
 
“This guidance provided schools and teachers with an important safeguard if things went wrong,” she explained. “The Coalition Government’s decision to sweep away this advice could make teachers more vulnerable.
 
“Parents will continue to expect schools to act in children’s best interests. Parents should be extremely worried that the Coalition Government’s cost-cutting measures could endanger their children and damage their education.”
 
Delegates at the conference also backed the union to continue to campaign for:

  • legislation that protects the health and well-being of all teachers, support staff and pupils;
  • the enforcement of statutory health and safety provisions;
  • the publication of guidance on the management of health and safety risks; and
  • the reversal of public-sector cuts and austerity programmes, which are, in the union’s view, putting the lives of pupils and teachers at risk.

To coincide with the motion, the NASUWT also released a new report into excessive classroom temperatures, in which it repeats its previous call for a legal maximum workplace temperature.
 
The survey found that:

  • more than three-quarters of teachers experienced classroom temperatures in excess of 24OC on more than a quarter of days during the survey period (four weeks over last summer); and
  • a third of teachers experienced classroom temperatures in excess of 30OC at some point during the survey period.

The Government has also consulted on simplifying regulations regarding school premises, such as washroom facilities and light fittings.
 
In its response to this consultation, NASUWT suggested that the Government’s philosophy of deregulation is jeopardising the “quality of the educational environment and the health, safety and welfare of children, young people and staff”.
 
SHP is currently awaiting a comment from the Department for Education.

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Blueshaystacks
Blueshaystacks
8 years ago

Compared to lots of work environments schools are ‘low risk’. The fact that the categorisation means fewer visits by HSE Inspectors should not stop the schools governing/management teams implementing adequate controls to mitigate the risks that are foreseeable

Blueshaystacks
Blueshaystacks
8 years ago

compared to other industry sectors schools are ‘low risk’. This however does not excuse the teachers, governors and management teams from implementing adequate mitigations for the risks they have identified. Why do they need to rely on HSE Inspector visits to raise their level of safety?

Kevin
Kevin
8 years ago

With regard to the high temperatures, we rarely experience really hot weather and we all have to suffer when the sun shines, get a fan and get over it. summer temperatures rarely last more than a few days. take the class outside and enjoy the weather.

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

Well at least now schools can’t blame H&S “redtape” for the reason not to orginise school trips. I’d be intersted to see the increse in school trips and activities now that they burden of H&S has been taken away

Mschilling
Mschilling
8 years ago

I have to agree with most comments here. Mr Knudsen makes a good point; the legislation is there to be used, changing the forms just makes the work a little easier – it does not mean management can neglect their legal duties.
We used to have the political moaning about red tape and H&S stopping normal activities. How we have people moaning that the government are cutting back on safety to gain votes – come on folks you can’t have it both ways. Unions have one priority – Unions.

Paulbreslin
Paulbreslin
8 years ago

Excessive classroom temperatures in Summer: 24*C and occaisionally 30*C.

It’s exactly the same in workplaces all around the country. So what. Some people have to work in direct sunlight at much higher temperatures. For example, UK soldiers in Afghanistan. Note: they also have to dodge bullets, breathe in copious amounts of sand and watch people die.

Have a drink of chilled, readily available drinking water and get real.

Pike
Pike
8 years ago

The trouble is common sense isn’t that common (just look at parliament) when the next Lyme Bay tragedy occurs you can expect the teacher to be appropriately charge for an H & S offence which should include stupidity. I think the NASUWT is right, this guff from the government is only politics to try and gain popularity by “reducing” paperwork will only serve to increse this paperwork because a lot of useful guidance and regulation will be removed leavingi people to make up their own minds.

Stevek2008
Stevek2008
8 years ago

I find it incredible that a so-called “responsible” union lambastes such a Health & Safety shakeup. The legislation is already in place to protect pupils and teachers but is being abused by all and sundry thanks to the “claim culture” that is rife within the UK. Don’t slam the Government work with them ( the Unions that is ). Wake up to the real world and contribute something more useful to society. And yes, I am a very qualified Health & Safety professional.

William
William
8 years ago

People yet again mis-using H&S as a big stick to hammer home their point. Schools are low risk. Period. Their grievance has more to do with salaries and pensions than anything else. And if they think that appealing to parents on H&S grounds will help their cause, when actually parents are quite frankly fed up with schools’ over-interpretation of H&S legislation, then they should think again.