From education to employment

But new regulations will not improve matters, union reports

A union has issued a stark warning to colleges and universities on fire safety measures, after expressing doubts over employer’s competency and a “doubtful” record of assessment.

The University and College Union (UCU) has warned its members to expect closer inspection of their fire safety arrangements from next week following new regulations which come into effect on 1st October.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at the UCU said: “Although there are very few fire related injuries in further and higher education, there are too many incidents.

“And in too many colleges and universities it is not unusual to find there are no fire drills or evacuation plans and that safety reps are kept in the dark,” he added.

The new regulations will stipulate a shift to employers implementing fire risk assessments, as opposed to inspection from fire authorities; something the UCU do not believe will improve matters. However, there was a stress on employer safety representatives becoming more involved.

“We will vigorously monitor the implementation of the new safety regulations, which must include proper consultation with union health and safety reps,” said Mr Kline, adding that colleges” track record of risk assessment was “patchy”.

“If we prevent a single injury or tragedy it will be worth it. In the process, we expect to improve communications and safety information in workplaces and to make them safer, healthier and more comfortable places for staff and students”, he added.

Last year a fire wiped out a research centre at Southampton University with an estimated £50 million damages. Reports have shown there were 470 reported incidents in England and Wales in 2004, while colleges and universities in Greater London reported 32 fires between October 2004 and September 2005.

And in other news…

The UCU today claimed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was endangering the health of staff at thousands of universities and colleges. In a critical submission to a HSE consultation, the UCU said that the focus had shifted from inspection and enforcement to offering guidance to employers.

According to the union, the HSE was failing to adapt to modern workplace hazards such as stress, bullying and RSI.

Mr Kline said: “Encouragement has failed to motivate most FE and HE employers to act. Evidence shows it is inspection backed by enforcement that is the most effective way of ensuring employers comply with their health and safety responsibilities”.

Annabel Hardy.

Next week: The Association of South East Colleges concludes FE News” vocational/academic skills debate

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