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Asbestos prosecution highlights needs for Academies

6 December 2013

The recent prosecution of a Birmingham academy following exposure of contractors to asbestos highlights the need for trusts and multi academy trusts to ensure that the schools which they operate have effective and compliant health and safety systems.

On 14th November 2013 Equitas Academies Trust, the owner and operator of Aston Manor Academy was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Although the school had not been under local authority control since 2011 the trust had failed to ensure employees and management received adequate training to make up for the loss of local authority support and ensure that a suitable asbestos management plan was in place.

It is perfectly proper for employers to delegate tasks to staff, sub committees or groups with a view to the burden on the employer being discharged. This is importantly distinct from delegating those duties. The responsibility remains upon the employer to take reasonably practicable steps as described above. In the event of a breach of the law it is the employer , as in this case , which will be the primary target for the police , HSE or claimants. Accordingly trusts and trust boards should satisfy themselves that schools are engaging with the legislation.

Paperwork generated by the schools should cover the basics of good health and safety management such as a health and safety policy, risk assessments and where necessary safe systems of work and evidence of instruction and training in the area of health and safety.

In the event of an incident schools may well wish to take early legal advice. This will assist the school in managing any investigation undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive and indeed any internal investigation. The HSE will more than likely wish to obtain documentation and speak to witnesses.

Historically schools and Local Education Authorities have been the subject of criminal prosecutions and investigations as well as significant compensation claims following breaches of health and safety legislation. The HSE have also investigated and/or prosecuted both members of staff and school governors acting as directors.

Talk to us

Browne Jacobson can provide both proactive and reactive advice. In the former case through off the shelf products and advice upon a trust’s legal obligations outlining the systems and paperwork a trust might wish to put in place to address health and safety risks. In the latter through our quickcall service which offers immediate advice.

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