EDUCATION | HSE targeting schools over transport safety concerns

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is cracking down on schools whose transport arrangements pose a risk to pupils’ safety.

So far, a series of targeted visits have unearthed significant concerns surrounding the safe movement of vehicles on school premises.

In particular, inspectors are focusing their attention on vehicle movements at the end of the school day and conducting a thorough assessment of how schools are controlling the risks to pupils under their care.

In some cases, the findings have prompted the HSE to initiate enforcement action against schools whose arrangements were found to be inadequate.

A tragic lesson for schools

The way schools are managing vehicle movements came under scrutiny following the tragic death of a teenage pupil on school grounds.

15-year-old Ashley Talbot was fatally struck by a school minibus inside the gates of Maesteg School in Bridgend as he ran to catch a bus home.

Concerns had been raised about safety at the school before the incident, with a regular bus driver describing it as an “accident waiting to happen”. 

At a trial held at Cardiff Crown Court, Bridgend County Borough Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This states that employers must carry out their activities in ways which, so far as is reasonably practicable’, do not expose non-employees to health and safety risks. It was charged £300,000 and ordered to pay £29,000 in costs.

The PE teacher driving the minibus was not prosecuted in relation to the incident following an investigation by South Wales Police.

Missed opportunities

The court heard how the council failed to address “hazardous” bus parking provision, despite issues being brought to their attention on more than one occasion.

Concerns had first been raised over the safety of drop-off points, walkways and road parking during the construction of a lay-by in September 2008. 

An investigation by the HSE found that the lay-by was never large enough to accommodate all school buses at home time. This meant that some of the buses had been parking on the opposite side of the road where there was no pavement. Children were left to board in the middle of the road, with other vehicles travelling in both directions between the waiting buses.

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The court learned that authorities at Bridgend Council had failed to implement their own safety adviser’s recommendations to improve safety for pupils.

Adding weight to the concerns, bus drivers and staff at the school testified that there had been a number of “near misses” before Ashley’s death. It was revealed that a collision had been narrowly avoided three weeks beforehand when a boy walked out between parked buses, forcing a minibus driver to “brake hard”.

Prosecutor Simon Morgan said that pupils would walk between parked vehicles into the road to get to their bus, with one bus driver describing the situation at the end of the school day as a “free for all”.

"The death could have been avoided had the correct safety measures been put in place."

Judge Eleri Rees

Entirely preventable

An inquest jury concluded that teenager’s death was an accident. However, the court was told that the tragedy could have been prevented had concerns been taken seriously and the necessary remedial measures taken.

Judge Eleri Rees remarked: “The fact the death could have been avoided had the correct safety measures been put in place makes it even more painful”. She added that “insufficient attention was given to safety when planning the design of the school”.

HSE Inspector Helen Turner echoed Rees’ comments, saying: “The need for children to cross the road to board their bus could have been taken away with proper planning and design, which should always seek to keep vehicles and pedestrians apart.”

She continued: “We hope this prosecution will serve as a reminder to those with a responsibility of care to address transport risk in schools and actively monitor that their arrangements are effective to keep children safe.”

Changes have since been implemented, including increased supervision and a lock-down at the end of the school day to allow children to board the buses safely.

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Under the spotlight

Following a recent series of inspections, the HSE has issued a bulletin in which it has warned that similar incidents could happen at other schools unless urgent action is taken to improve safety.

It has urged schools to review their transport arrangements to ensure risks are adequately controlled.

This includes:

  • Conducting a risk assessment of vehicle movements occurring immediately outside school premises (including staff arriving and leaving work, school buses delivering pupils, and delivery vehicles) and managing those risks in line with current workplace transport guidance;
  • Ensuring, where possible, that all vehicles are on site well before the end of the school day and that they are parked in authorised positions to allow safe access;
  • Preventing unauthorised vehicles from accessing and parking within the school grounds;
  • Controlling vehicle movements and departures at key times and until pedestrians are dispersed;
  • Carefully considering the walking routes used by pupils to access transport and the measures needed to restrict pedestrians to recognised pathways and road crossing points;
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of the arrangements and adherence to procedures; and
  • Recording and reviewing incidents, near misses and non-conformities and sharing learning outcomes.

The HSE has reminded schools that eliminating or reducing transport risks should be a top priority when designing new facilities or redeveloping school sites. 

It has also recommended that schools regularly review existing controls whenever the capacity of the school or the school’s transport arrangements change to ensure they remain effective.

Nick Wilson

Director of Health & Safety Services

Expert Comment

HSE statistics show that every year, about 50 people are killed and more than 5,000 people are injured in accidents involving workplace transport. The most common causes are people falling from or being struck by a vehicle, objects falling from a vehicle, or vehicles overturning. 

It is imperative that schools have robust measures in place to protect employees, pupils and others from the risks of moving vehicles.

Experts in education

The HSE has advised schools of the importance of receiving competent advice from a Health & Safety specialist to ensure all necessary steps are taken to reduce risk.

Ellis Whittam is the first Health & Safety Consultancy to achieve assured advice status from a Primary Authority. We are trusted by independent schools and academies across the UK to help ensure the safety of both pupils and staff.

If you would like professional guidance and reassurance, our unique four-pillar approach offers a focused assessment of your Health & Safety Management, Facilities Management, Curriculum-Related Risk and School-Specific Risk, giving you the confidence that your environment is safe and compliant. 

Call 0345 226 8393 now for hands-on support.