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

Burnely College in Lancashire found to have failed to ensure staff safety during outbreak of virus in report by Health and Safety Executive

Douglas Whitbread
Tuesday 24 May 2022 11:00
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<p>Donna Coleman, a teacher at Burnley College, died of Covid </p>

Donna Coleman, a teacher at Burnley College, died of Covid

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

Burnely College in Lancashire was found to have failed to ensure staff safety during the outbreak of the virus in a damning report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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

The findings showed the college failed to “meet social distancing and ventilation requirements” in an office Ms Coleman shared with two colleagues - even after one tested positive.

It also demonstrated that staff at the further education college were encouraged not to report their “close contacts” if they caught 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 of the party later emerged showing a staff member breaking into a karaoke rendition of “It’s Raining Men” in front of an 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”.

Ms Coleman was said to have raised her concerns about safety

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

“Whilst the HSE was not able to find that Burnley’s failings directly caused Donna’s death, it is clear that the college endangered the lives of staff and students.

“The college should not need a year-long investigation to address basic failings like refusing to allow staff to self-isolate when it was a legal requirement or to realise that it is incredibly reckless to push ahead with a Christmas party during a pandemic.

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

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

She said: “She was asked to go back to do some claims, so she did, as there was only her and another person in the office. At that point, she said there was nothing in place, but it was kind of okay as she’d brought her own mask and taken her own hand sanitiser in.

“But in September, 100 per cent of staff and a 100 per cent of students back. She told me, “There’s 15 of us in our staff room, and there’s no social distancing going on.”

The 39-year-old claimed at the time there was a culture of denial about Covid at the college, with staff often commenting it didn’t exist within its premises.

She said: “The line was “Well, Covid doesn’t exist at Burnley College - do you not know? But Burnley had one of the highest rates in the country.”

Burney College has been at the centre of a health and safety investigation

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

She said her sister began to feel unwell during the second week of December in 2020, as more and more cases began to emerge at the college.

Ms Coleman tested positive for Covid-19 on 14 December during a week when at least 14 other staff members from the college also went down with the virus.

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

Ms Coleman was taken into hospital suffering from Covid-19 on 28 December 2020 and passed away on 6 January 2021.

Her sister said she felt the college failed in their duty of care towards her sister and did not take her health concerns seriously.

Burnley College has been approached for comment.

SWNS

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