A Guide to Safe Practice in Art & Design

2.4   Teachers' Legal Responsibilities

Teachers and other employees must take reasonable care for ensuring their own health and safety and that of their colleagues and pupils. They must also cooperate with their employers to enable them to comply with their duties under the HSWA (1974). It is important that health and safety requirements are met and that advice and instructions from governors, headteachers or the local authority are always followed. Unsafe practices and conditions must be reported to the employer. Given their general management responsibilities, it is likely that headteachers and heads of departments will undertake greater responsibility than other staff for health and safety matters.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) impose a duty on employers to ensure that their establishments are safe and healthy places. Those in charge of children have a common law responsibility in loco parentis to look after children in their care and ensure they do not come to harm. Teachers are therefore expected to exercise the same degree of care that a careful parent would take in the same circumstances.

In law, employers are generally responsible for the negligence of their employees when such action has resulted in injury to another person. If legal action is brought, it is possible for a teacher to be named separately, particularly if the negligence was during an activity not reasonably regarded as a requirement of the employer. However, when staff do accept special responsibilities it does not necessarily follow that they are personally liable for the consequences of any accident. In the event of legal action, if negligence is proven, a court might decide that the teacher had been given inadequate training or that the delegation of responsibility was inappropriate.

Teachers who are in any doubt about the extent of their responsibility may wish to consult the TeacherNet web site at Health & Safety: Responsibilities and Powers. This publication was also sent to all schools and local education authorities in December 2001.