Upon becoming an academy school, governing owner-operators take on legal responsibility for the Health & Safety of staff and students as well as other Environmental and Business requirements.
If you govern an academy or are thinking of doing so, you may not realise just how serious this legal responsibility is. By law, Governors must appoint someone to help them with health and safety matters. This person must be “competent” which means they must have the necessary skills, knowledge, qualification and experience to give sensible advice about managing a school’s risks and keeping up with the law.
However, appointing a “Competent Person” will not discharge Governors of responsibility. If the law is broken, as the owner-operators Governors will be the prime-target for proceedings by the police, HSE or claimants. Here are some examples of recent incidents:
School and glass contractor fined for asbestos failings
A Birmingham academy and a glass company have been fined for failing to properly manage refurbishment works and exposing workers to asbestos.
School fined, teacher knocked unconscious after fall
A girls’ school has been fined for breaching work at height regulations after a teacher fell from a stepladder and was left unconscious.
Stonyhurst College fined £100,000
A fine of £100,000 was issued to Stonyhurst College, an historic private school in Clitheroe, Lancashire, after a stonemason developed silicosis. He could have been exposed to silica dust in excess of 80 times the workplace limit, the HSE said, during a 21-month project to repair the building.
Guidance for Schools
The guidance document “Guidance for Schools Converting to Academy Status” 2017 from Somerset County Council states:
“As the employer, the board of governors of an academy has overall accountability for health and safety for the school workforce and students, and must ensure that the academy complies with all health and safety legislation. The LA carries no civil liability for health, safety and wellbeing in academies”
In addition, The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy Document, Compliance Monitoring for Schools Premises & Management 2018 section 3 states:
“Where an offence is committed under the HSWA 1974 by a body corporate with the “consent, connivance or neglect” of any director, manager, secretary or similar officer, that person may be prosecuted as well as the body corporate.”
This means that senior personnel have special responsibilities to ensure that health and safety is properly managed within their organisation and in areas under their remit. Enforcement inspectors tend to look closely at the role of school leaders and managers when carrying out inspections.
Section 4 of The Management of Health & Safety also states:
“In order to ensure that the health and safety arrangements within an organisation are effective there must be systems in place to ensure that the risks which arise from the organisation’s activities are identified and controlled. Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to manage health and safety by assessing risk”
It is clear that becoming a Schools Academy brings with it the same legal duties and responsibilities that a Director of a commercial organisation must meet. Be that Health & Safety, Environmental or any other area of Statutory Compliance within the organisation.
The question is simply this – How Confident are you in your Academy’s Health & Safety, and Statutory Compliance?
As part of the Compliance Standard Group, icet solutions works with organisations across the UK to identify Statutory Compliance by utilising a unique process of Cloud Based Integrated Management Solutions, Statutory Compliance Models, International Standards Accreditation, Consultancy, Training and support.
People who explore and (often) document abandoned places are known as ‘urban explorers’ and highlight one of the most obvious things that happens to abandoned buildings.
Entering an ‘abandoned’ building is usually still unlawful, because the land is almost invariably still owned by someone. Entering a building which is owned by someone is trespass and is usually a civil offence. Contrary to old wives’ tales, trespassers cannot typically be prosecuted – at least not for trespass alone.
A trespasser might be sued, but this is usually too much effort to be worthwhile. A landlord may give permission to enter, but unless permanent public access is granted they can recant this permission at any time.
Risks are many, and include asbestos, falling masonry, sharp objects and unsteady floors.
For this reason, to prevent the risk of people trespassing and then suing the landlord when they get hurt, it is recommended that security guards should be considered to patrol empty buildings and land to demonstrate due diligence and reduce the Risk to the Landlord and Public so far as is Reasonably Practicable.
In reality, the risk to the land owner is quite low. The below is extracted from a 2003 court case:
“I think it will be extremely rare for an occupier of land to be under a duty to prevent people from taking risks which are inherent in the activities they freely choose to undertake upon the land. If people want to climb mountains, go hang gliding or swim or dive in ponds or lakes, that is their affair. Of course, the landowner [may] for his own reasons wish to prohibit such activities. He may think that they are a danger or an inconvenience to himself or others. Or he may take a paternalist view and prefer people not to undertake risky activities on his land. He is entitled to impose such conditions, as the Council did by prohibiting swimming. But the law does not require him to do so”.
– Lord Hoffman in Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council, 2003.
It’s still possible that landowners and landlords could end up being sued after trespass, for various reasons, but usually these reasons would involve holding items on-site that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
A more likely concern is that something of value will be damaged, or that arsonists and vandals will target the building, or that something of value will be stolen.
Squatters cannot legally squat in residential buildings. Squatting in non-residential buildings, however, is not a crime.
It’s extremely unlikely, however, that the squatters will manage to remain in a building for ten years against a land-owner’s will.
A long-term squatter can become the registered owner of a property or land if they can prove they have occupied the property for 10 years without the owner’s and that they have acted as owners of the property for the whole of that time.
The squatters could claim Adverse Possession, which would be decided by HM Land Registry. In such cases the owner has 65 days to object and if they do, the application is normally automatically rejected.
If a squatter causes damage while entering or in the property, uses utilities such as water electricity or gas without permission, steals from the property, fly-tips, or commits any other crime the police can intervene.
Things to consider:
If you own any land, you can face claims for compensation if a member of the public suffers an injury whilst on it, even if the land doesn’t have public access. That means whatever type of land you own – whether it’s a small field or large estate, a private car park in town or a sports field – the land owner must ensure a suitable level of liability insurance is in place at all times. In addition, Environmental contamination of Land & Watercourses may revert to the landowner incurring extensive fines if the perpetrator cannot be found and due diligence cannot be proven.
Remember – legally the onus is on the landlord to protect the public from injury. That means that even if someone has an accident whilst trespassing, they can make a claim against you, and if you can’t prove you were not negligent, you’ll be liable.
Most small and mid-sized businesses don’t have the luxury of a dedicated Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) department. In many cases, EHS responsibilities are delegated to one or two people who wear multiple hats within their company. If this situation sounds familiar, be aware that you may be leaving yourself open to compliance management risks that you can’t afford to take.
Nearly half of businesses in a recent survey said their top compliance management challenge is keeping compliance policies up to date with new and changing regulations (NAVEX Global research).
If your EHS compliance is DIY, you need to develop a plan to address ever-changing compliance regulations. Getting it wrong can mean fines or even prison sentences. Getting it right is therefore the only option.
A recent survey spanned respondents at small (25%), midsize (31%), and enterprise (43%) businesses, as well as government and non-profit organisations. Nearly half of the business and organisations (47%) said their top policy management challenge is keeping compliance policies up to date with new and changing regulations.
Other top policy management challenges included;
- Training employees on policies (40%)
- Out of date policies and inaccuracy (32%)
- Demands related to legal compliance (31%)
- Easy access to policies and procedures (28%)
- Document management (23%)
Nearly 50% of the organisations said they are not aware of the cost of compliance within their organisations. Typically in these cases, where companies have gone on to implement compliance management software, they have saved significantly on costs.
The report found that integrated management software such as that provided by icet solutions, improved compliance management execution by improving the efficiency of policy quality, communication, workflow, and access.