Amongst organisations, schools in the United Kingdom rank alongside those who place health and safety at the very top of their list of priorities. This is hardly surprising considering that they are responsible not only for the workplace health, safety and welfare of those they employ but also for the infinitely greater number of children who attend them. What is surprising therefore is that accidents to school staff are not infrequent and indeed in the year 2010-11 close to two thousand major accidents were reported to the Health and Safety Executive along with many thousands of accidents requiring staff to take three or more days off work.
The most common cause of accidents in both categories were slips, trips and falls on the level; nearly two and half thousand of them. This cause of accidents is the most common in a great many employment sectors and the reasons they occur are generally the same; badly maintained, contaminated, uneven, holed, frayed, chipped, and potholed floors and external surfaces. Schools are no different in that respect but the likelihood of slips, trips and level surfaces occurring is increased by the financial strain many state run schools are currently under and which can lead to backlogs in building maintenance occurring – not that this unfortunate situation in any way absolves a school from blame if it fails in its legal duty to provide a safe working environment for its employees.
The next most common cause of accidents is related to carrying and lifting. It is not immediately obvious that the work carried out in schools would involve a great deal of manual handling, but it does. From kitchen staff moving heavy pans of liquids and support staff carrying office supplies all the way through the front line and teachers having to transport teaching supplies or move equipment about in classrooms, lifting and carrying is generally and frequently carried out activity in schools. The fact that close to one and half thousand school employees experienced work related manual handling accidents sufficiently serious to require reporting to the Health and Safety Executive reveals the health and safety eroding combination of high work pressure and inadequate manual handling training existing in some schools.
Of the other statistical causes of accidents in school it is worth noting that over the last year nearly 800 school employees reported being hit by what the HSE categorise as ‘moving, flying or falling objects’. A good proportion of these accidents were the result of the crumbling of the fabric of under-maintained school buildings; only ‘physical assaults’ resulted in as many injuries in schools. So, whilst it is comforting to think of schools as organisations spearheading engagement with health and safety, the reality is that many are engaged in an uphill battle in this area.
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