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June 24, 2013

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Plans to cut through “crazy cornucopia” of work-experience rules

apprenticesMinisters have outlined plans to make it easier for employers to take on work-experience students, with new guidance issued by both the HSE and Ofsted on the health and safety responsibilities of education providers and employers providing student placements.

The Government recognises that work-placement arrangements are too often seen as bureaucratic and burdensome, and ultimately deter potential employers from taking young people on.

In an effort to encourage more work-experience placements, the Government has published an open letter to employers, in which five ministers — including Business Secretary Vince Cable MP and Employment minister Mark Hoban MP — pledged to bring to an end to this kind of health and safety bureaucracy.

The HSE has issued revised guidance on employers’ obligations in relation to risk assessments. The advice makes it clear that if workplace risk has already been assessed with young people in mind, a business does not need to repeat this for each new student.

Commenting on the plans, Mark Hoban MP said: “Too often in the past, the crazy cornucopia of confusing rules discouraged employers from taking young people on. That’s why we have been working across government to make sure the rules are clear and easy to understand.”

Added HSE chair, Judith Hackitt: “There is no need for lots of paperwork, or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments.”

The HSE’s guidance for work-experience organisers, including schools, colleges and third parties, focuses on the need to keep a sense of proportion, and take into consideration the level of risk attached to the work environment.

To this end, they are advised to remember that the placement provider (employer) has chief responsibility for the health and safety of the student. In taking reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that employers are meeting their duties, schools and other organisers are told that they can rely on past, or pooled experience — for example, within the local-authority area.

The Department for Education and Ofsted have also published a guide to clarify the health and safety responsibilities for educational establishments organising work-experience opportunities, as well as clarifying Ofsted’s role in health and safety inspections.

Ofsted points out that while it is not a health and safety authority, its inspectors have a duty to take prompt and proportionate action and to report significant health and safety risks affecting learners when these are identified. In particular, Ofsted inspectors will consider the attention that is paid to the quality and safety of learning resources, and the health and safety arrangements to protect staff and learners.

The guidance, however, has failed to satisfy safety pressure group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), which described the Government press release and HSE’s accompanying statement as “inaccurate, misleading and dangerous”.

The group points out that reg.3(5) of the MHSWR explains: “In making or reviewing a risk assessment, an employer who employs, or is to employ, a young person shall take particular account of the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks, and immaturity of young persons.”

Reg.19 of the same legislation requires employers to undertake risk assessments relating to a young person’s physical and psychological capacity.

Said Linda Whelan, a founder member of FACK, said: “Alongside the open letter to employers, we feel there is a need for an open ministerial letter to parents and to young people themselves on their health and safety rights, the legal requirements on employers, and where they can go for further information and advice.”

Insurers have also committed to treat work-experience students as employees for the purposes of insurance against bodily injury, and confirmed that the provision of work-experience opportunities for students will not, in itself, impact on premiums.

John Wastnage, head of employment and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Employers are willing to invest time and resources in educating young people about the workplace, but many such opportunities are currently blocked owing to risk-averse attitudes on all sides.

“The commitment from the insurance industry to include work-experience students within existing Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance will also reassure business owners that they offer help in an easy and responsible way.”

The HSE guidance is available at www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/workexperience/index.htm

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