Monday, June 27, 2022

College where teacher died of Covid ‘encouraged staff to break rules’

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A college where a teacher died of Covid-19 has become the first educational institution in the UK to break health and safety laws during the pandemic.

A damning report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Lancashire’s Burnely College had failed to keep staff safe during the virus outbreak.

The report followed an HSE inquest into the death of Donna Coleman, 42, in January last year.

The results showed the college “did not meet social distancing and ventilation requirements” at an office Ms Coleman shared with two colleagues – even after one tested positive.

It also showed that staff at the further education college were encouraged not to report their “close contacts” if they contracted Covid-19.

The report further confirmed that a Christmas party “for all staff” was held when there was a strict ban on gatherings – on the same day as a Downing Street party.

Footage later emerged from the party, showing a staff member breaking into a karaoke rendition of “It’s Raining Men” in front of a assembled cheering crowd.

The University and College Union, which supported Donna’s family in bringing the case, said the school had “endangered the lives of staff and students.”

Jo Grady, its general secretary, said: “The Health and Safety Executive has identified numerous instances where Burnley College has failed in its duties to protect the safety of its staff and students during the deadly second wave of Covid.

“While the HSE has been unable to determine that Burnley’s errors directly caused Donna’s death, it is clear that the college put staff and student lives at risk.

“The college shouldn’t need a year-long investigation to address fundamental deficiencies like staff refusal to self-isolate when required by law, or to recognize that it’s incredibly reckless to push a Christmas party during a pandemic.

“Many workers have lost their lives to Covid and our thoughts are with Donna’s family today.”

Stephanie Coleman, 39, said her sister raised concerns about her safety when the students returned to the college in September 2020.

She said: “She was asked to go back to make some claims so she did as there was only her and one other person in the office. At that point she said nothing was in place but it was fine as she brought her own mask and took her own hand sanitizer.

“But in September 100 percent of the staff and 100 percent of the students are back. She told me, “We’re 15 in our staff room and there’s no social distancing.”

The 39-year-old claimed there was a culture of Covid denial at the college at the time, with staff often commenting that it did not exist on his premises.

She said: “The line read: ‘Well Covid doesn’t exist at Burnley College – don’t you know that? But Burnley had one of the highest rates in the country.”

Stephanie urged her sister to complain, but Ms Coleman said she was afraid of losing her job.

She said her sister felt unwell during the second week of December 2020 as cases surged in college.

Ms Coleman tested positive for Covid-19 on December 14 during a week during which at least 14 other college staff also fell ill with the virus.

But despite the outbreak of positive cases, Stephanie, who previously worked at the college, claims bosses arranged a Christmas party for staff, breaking Covid regulations.

Ms Coleman was hospitalized with Covid-19 on December 28, 2020 and died on January 6, 2021.

Her sister said she felt the college failed in its duty of care to her sister and failed to take her health concerns seriously.

Burnley College was contacted for comment.


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