The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforces health and safety law in most schools and colleges. In some areas, this responsibility may fall to the local environmental health department but the responsibilities and powers are the same.
The HSE is a government body, which is charged with ensuring that risks to people's health and safety from work activities are properly controlled. Mostly, it gives verbal or informal written advice but, in cases where legal requirements are not met, it can issue an improvement notice requiring specified actions within a certain time limit.
Where an imminent risk exists, it can issue a prohibition notice, banning a certain activity until the risk is properly controlled. In extreme cases, HSE inspectors can decide to prosecute to ensure a person's health and safety.
Penalties in prosecutions under health and safety law can be severe - there is no maximum fine, and there is provision for imprisonment. For example, in 2007 a local authority was fined £12,000 for failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employee (under section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974) after a school technician suffered lacerations to his hand from an unguarded circular saw. The technician had not received any training in the use and maintenance of woodworking machinery.
Health and safety inspections
If a HSE inspector visits a school or college, employers and employees have a duty to assist him or her and to provide all relevant information that is requested. Generally inspectors will notify the LA/establishment before a visit takes place but they have the power to visit a workplace unannounced.
Complaints to the HSE
If a member of staff or health and safety rep feels that risks are not being adequately controlled in an establishment, a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive can be made. However, it is advisable to speak to ATL in the first instance (see below).
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.