At the heart of educating our children, is the need for local authorities to provide safe and nurturing learning environments for pupils and therefore risks need to be carefully considered, with consideration being given to the ages and needs of the children in the school.
Also at the forefront of the minds of the risk assessors, is the health and welfare of council employees working in schools, the contractors and the visitors of all ages. Where local authorities have taken all reasonable steps to prevent an accident or injury, they can be reassured that the courts do adopt a common sense approach when considering claims made against them. Not all accidents involving employees should result in an employer being held liable.
A closer look at a recent case
We recently defended a case on behalf of Doncaster MBC, in a claim brought by a former teaching assistant of a primary school. The incident which was the subject of the claim occurred when a teaching assistant tried to prevent a pupil leaving the school building, even though he was allowed to go outside into the playground. The teaching assistant physically blocked the doorway, and held the door shut, contrary to her training and in the knowledge that the pupil was prone to violent outbursts. Unfortunately the pupil reacted by punching the claimant in the back and causing her to sustain physical and psychological injuries.
It was alleged the risk assessments were inadequate and that the claimant had not received training on how to deal with issues of this nature. These allegations were denied by the council and we submitted that the claimant was aware that the pupil had a tendency to become volatile and that she was trained and instructed not to deal with a challenging pupil. She should have reported her concerns to the pupil’s key worker/class teacher.
At trial the district judge accepted the evidence that there was no reason to believe that the pupil would have left school grounds if he had gone through the doors. The judge accepted that he was in a calm state when he left his classroom and the claimant also accepted that she had been trained never to put herself in danger. Therefore the district judge found that it was the claimant’s decision to obstruct the pupil, which was likely to have caused the outburst. She did not need to be trained to know that her actions would lead to an outburst.
The district judge concluded that the claimant had shown a lack of judgment by confronting the pupil. Therefore the fact that she chose to block him could not be said to be the fault of the council. As a result the claim was dismissed.
This is a sensible decision and shows that where the council has considered the risks, provided training and enforced safe systems of work, claims can be defended.