no embargo - 19 April 2014( Back to news releases)
FACK Comment on DWP Press release embargoed until 19th April – ‘No more nonsense ‘elf and safety excuses, councils told’
When Keane Wallis-Bennett was killed by a wall at school, David Cameron said: “This was an absolutely shocking accident which people will have seen across the country and their hearts will go out to her family and friends. Lessons will have to be learned to make sure such tragic accidents won’t happen again.”
Keane’s funeral was held on 17th April. Days later Mike Penning, DWP Minister for health and safety, is not warning schools that vulnerable children are at risk of losing their lives and that action must be taken. Outrageously, disregarding Keane’s tragic death, Mike Penning is telling councils and schools to ‘educate their staff to prevent the misuse of health and safety laws’.
The problem is not misuse of laws but a failure to implement and enforce health and safety to keep pupils and staff safe. Council inspections after Keane was killed found: “Similar walls have been identified in changing rooms and toilets at Leith Academy and Castlebrae High School, as well as in 11 primary schools across Edinburgh. Some were cordoned off as a precaution while safety checks were carried out.” Multiply this across the UK and serious, possibly deadly risks exist which should be tackled immediately.
Instead of focusing on such life and death issues, Mike Penning has ‘written personally to councils and schools on issues ranging from a ban on Help for Heroes wristbands to a council’s refusal to clear dog mess in a playground.’ Concentrating on these trivial issues but not on making schools safe in the weeks after a child’s death is not just insensitive, it is insane.
Banning wrist bands, frilly socks or bringing a chick into school on health and safety grounds is of course wrong, irritating and extremely silly. But none of these will kill, maim or give anyone cancer. However a failure to ensure safe buildings, working environments, work practices and manage asbestos in schools, does threaten the lives and health of everyone in school on a daily basis.
Less than 300 people over the last two years contacted the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Myth Buster Challenge Panel claiming they have been fobbed off with bogus excuses. The HSE response is ‘cracking down on over-zealous application of health and safety law with a dedicated advice section on its website for councils’.
After Keane Wallis- Bennett’s death the HSE should be cracking down on schools that are exposing staff and pupils to such lethal risks. Since February 2014 alone there have been five criminal prosecutions for health and safety offences in schools.3. Two autistic children lost a finger, a school girl was seriously injured in a fall down a lift shaft at the same school where Keane was killed, and several adults were injured or exposed to asbestos in other schools.
Every family that loses someone to a preventable incident in a workplace expects the HSE to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. This nonsensical behaviour from the Minister and HSE is an insult to those killed or hurt at work, and does nothing to reassure parents that their children will be safe at school. The reaction to the harmless misuse of health and safety as an excuse is absurdly out of proportion. By going along with it, the HSE capitulates to the government’s ideological deregulation and dishonours its mission: ‘to prevent death, injury and ill-health in Great Britain’s workplaces.’
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