Luton Borough Council has been fined £104,000 – reduced from £300,000 due to lack of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – after it admitted it had no risk assessments in place for staff protection at a secondary school.
The prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a pupil assaulted a teacher at Putteridge High School in Luton.
On 17 June 2016, the assistant head teacher was called to deal with a disruptive pupil who was refusing to go into a detention room. After she cleared the classroom of the other pupils, the pupil launched a sustained assault on the teacher using a mobile phone, inflicting life-changing injuries.
HSE investigators found that there were significant shortcomings in relation to the measures at the school, regarding violence and aggression posed by the pupils to others. No effective consideration was given to the risk of injury or death posed by the pupils to others and measures were not taken to reduce that threat to as low as reasonably practicable.
Luton Borough Council did not ensure that the school had people with sufficient competence in the management of health and safety involved in running the school to ensure that the threat was addressed. The council did not see to it that staff members at the school had the training either to remedy that shortcoming or to deal with violent and aggressive pupils in a way which did not expose them to risk. The council also failed to monitor the adequacy of the measures Putteridge High School had in place and the council therefore failed to pick up and address the shortcomings.
It is anticipated that in appropriate cases the courts will adopt this stance, recognising for certain organisations the huge impact of COVID on their finances
Her Honour Judge Mensah said the case was important because to not have brought a prosecution in such a serious case would, apart from anything else, have sent a completely wrong message to the school, its governors, the staff and pupils, other local authorities with responsibilities under the Education Acts and to the public generally.
'This was a large organisation which, to a very large extent, relied on employees conducting the day-to-day running of the school as it could not, and did not, have complete control over the daily functioning of the school,' she noted. 'However, I am satisfied that the systems that were in place were inadequate and oversight by the local authority was "light" – I accept that no concerns were brought to the attention of the local authority but that equally, it does not appear that the local authority invited matters to be brought to its attention.'
Luton Borough Council admitted breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £104,000 plus £60,000 costs. The fine was reduced from £300,000 due to the council’s lack of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kevin Elliott, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland, said the fact the court reduced the fine due to a significant reduction in the council’s revenue as a result of COVID-19 did not come as a surprise.
'It is anticipated that in appropriate cases the courts will adopt this stance, recognising for certain organisations the huge impact of COVID on their finances,' he warned. 'Last week British Airways had its fine for GDPR breaches reduced from £183 million to £20 million, with the court acknowledging the economic impact of COVID on the business.
'Organisations facing sentence for health and safety offences are likely to need to provide to any sentencing court evidence of the financial impact of COVID on their business, such as management accounts and/or an accountant’s report,' said Kevin, who heads up the law firm's health and safety team.