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Health and Safety at School - Part 1

8 February 2016

Health and Safety at School - Part 1

Who is responsible for Health and Safety at School?
The simple answer is everybody – the Board of Trustees, the Principal, staff, parents and others. But there are specific responsibilities for specific roles.

  • Collectively, the Board of Trustees as a legal entity holds the primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of everybody involved with school (staff, children, parents, members of the public) 'so far as is reasonably practicable'.
  • Individually, the Board of Trustees members including the principal are 'officers' under the new Act. They are responsible for exercising due diligence to ensure the school is meeting its health and safety obligations. They need to assure themselves the school has the appropriate policies, procedures and resources in place and to monitor them.
  • Principals, as well as being officers, are workers. In this capacity, like all staff they must make sure that nothing they do (or don't do) affects their own health and safety or others in the school.
  • Parents and other visitors also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own and others health and safety.

Who is liable – the Board of Trustees or the Principal?
The primary duty of care is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees as a legal entity. The duty of exercising due diligence to make sure the school is doing what it needs to ensure the health and safety of worker and others, is the duty of the individual members of the Board of Trustees (including the Principal). The Board of Trustees as an entity can fail in its primary duty but the individual members of the Board could still be meeting their duty of due diligence as officers and vice versa. They are two separate duties for two separate duty holders.

HOWEVER, unlike most other organisations, the appointed, co-opted or elected members of a Board of Trustees are exempted from prosecution if they fail to meet their duty of due diligence. The principal as an ex-officio member of the Board is not exempt and can be liable for a failure to meet the due diligence duty. Volunteer Officers (such as volunteer board members of a play centre or ECE service) can also not be prosecuted for a failure to meet their due diligence duty.

If there is an incident will WorkSafe prosecute? 
The decision by WorkSafe to take enforcement action is not an automatic one and lots of things will need to be taken into consideration – what was the level of harm, what was the level of knowledge about the risk, what options were available to manage the risk, what is the Board of Trustees doing about it, is this a one-off incident or part of a series of issues – before deciding what, if any, enforcement actions are appropriate. Prosecution is usually the last resort not the first step and is not a decision taken lightly. An incident in the playground will rarely lead to a visit by a health and safety officer.