Donna Coleman, 42, died in January last year after she was scared to complain in case she lost her job (Picture: SWNS)
A college has become the first educational establishment in the UK to have been found to have breached health and safety laws during the coronavirus pandemic.
A report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Burnley College, in Lancashire, had failed to ensure staff safety during the outbreak of the virus.
An investigation was launched after the death of teacher Donna Coleman, 42, in January last year.
The college was found to have failed to follow social distancing and ventilation requirements, and even held a Christmas party when there was a strict ban on all social gatherings. Staff were also encouraged not to report their close contacts if they caught the virus.
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’.
General secretary Jo Grady 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.
At least 14 other members of staff caught Covid-19 in the same week as Donna (Picture: SWNS)
‘Many workers have lost their lives to Covid and today our thoughts remain firmly with Donna’s family.’
Stephanie Coleman, 39, said her sister Donna, a programme leader, had raised concerns about her safety when students started returning to the college in September 2020.
‘She was asked to go back to do some claims, so she did, as there was only her and another person in the office,’ Stephanie said.
‘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% of staff and 100% of students back.
‘She told me, “There’s 15 of us in our staff room, and there’s no social distancing going on.”‘
She claimed at the time there was a denial about Covid-19 at the school at the time – with colleagues joking it ‘didn’t exist’ when they were there.
Stephanie, who previously worked at the college, 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.’
A report by the HSE found Burnley College, in Lancashire, had failed to ensure staff safety during the outbreak of the virus (Picture: Google Maps)
The college was found to have failed to follow social distancing and ventilation requirements (Picture: SWNS)
Stephanie said she encouraged her sister to complain, but Donna was scared she would lose her job as a result.
She said: ‘We spoke daily. We were very, very close, and she said, “Steph, I’m frightened for my job, I can’t afford not to be in.”‘
Stephanie said her sister began to feel unwell on December 11, 2020 as more and more cases began to emerge at the college.
Two people from her office tested positive for coronavirus over that weekend, so Donna got a test which was positive on December 14.
At least 14 other staff members caught the virus that week.
But despite the outbreak, Stephanie claims bosses still arranged a Christmas party for those working at the school.
‘I heard about the Christmas party, and I knew it was happening,’ she added. ‘It was notorious every year.
‘They might have slightly adapted it during the day, but they still provided everybody with a couple of drinks of alcohol each and food separately.
‘People are at home poorly – we all want Christmas parties, but you don’t do it.
‘You’re a massive college in the centre of town. The rules at the time are that you don’t do it – so why are you?’
Donna died on January 6, 2021 from coronavirus (Picture: SWNS)
The party was said to have been held on December 18, 2020 when there was a strict ban on gatherings – and on the same day as the infamous Downing Street Christmas bash.
Footage of the party later emerged showing a school worker singing ‘It’s Raining Men’ in front of a crowd taking part in karaoke.
Donna was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 on December 28, and died on January 6, 2021.
Stephanie said she feels the college failed in their duty of care towards her sister. and didn’t take her health concerns seriously.
She said: ‘It was like, “We’re a bubble that’s exempt from it because we’re carrying on as business as usual,” when everybody else in the country – well, most other people in the country – were following the rules.’
Burnley College has been approached for comment by Metro.co.uk.
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