Universities ordered to improve health and safety

August 31, 2007

Universities have been urged to take a more proactive approach to protecting their staff from injury or illness following the latest spate of health and safety breaches.

Research by The Times Higher into the Health and Safety Executive's casework reveals that a number of universities have been told to improve their practices in recent months.

In the most serious breach of health and safety law, Salford University was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £11,704 costs after one of its employees was seriously injured after being hit with a barrier while driving an electric vehicle on campus.

When the case came to court early last year, the university was criticised by the HSE for failing to have effective preventive and control measures. A Salford University spokesman said that the incident was its first offence, and only a small area of the campus was found to have problems. "We took immediate steps to ensure that all safety deficiencies were remedied quickly and thoroughly."

A dozen other universities have been told to improve health and safety practices.

Abertay University in Dundee was found to have improperly stored liquid oxygen. An Abertay spokeswoman said: "We are committed to taking appropriate action to ensure that health and safety guidelines are adhered to."

At Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratories the HSE's inspectors found that there was insufficient handling training for workshop and maintenance employees.

Warwick University was served with three improvement notices after radioactive material went missing.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Health and safety must be at the forefront of all employers' minds at all times, not just after something goes wrong."

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association said that the Health and Safety Annual Report 2006 showed that the higher education sector has a good health and safety record. A spokesman said the HSE has declared the sector "mature" and capable of setting its own targets and self-monitoring progress.

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