Burnley College 'broke health and safety laws’ before Covid death of teacher Donna Coleman

Donna Coleman died after contracting coronavirus in January 2021 at the age of 42.

An investigation into Covid safety at Burnley College after the death of teacher Donna Coleman found that ‘health and safety laws were broken’ by the college.

This is the first time an education sector employer has been issued with a formal notice in relation to Covid failings by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Donna Coleman died on 6 January 2021 at just 42. Her family have always maintained that they and Donna herself thought she had contracted the virus from the college.

Although the HSE said "Burnley College was not taking all reasonably practicable measures to control Covid-19 within the workplace at the relevant time", they stated that the evidence presented as to whether Donna Coleman contracted the virus at work, or as a result of work activity, is inconclusive.

Back in 2021 Donna's sister Victoria Coleman told ITV News that Donna had been worried about catching Covid at work and that she did not feel safe.

Marie Monaghan, representative from the UCU, says they are working alongside Donna’s family on appealing the findings.

They went on to state in a letter to the University and Collage Union (UCU) that "it was impossible to conclude that from the evidence presented, on the balance of probabilities, that Donna Coleman’s exposure to Covid-19 took place within the workplace.

"The evidence does not present a specific, identifiable incident that led to an increased risk of exposure and there is no clear link between Donna Coleman’s work and exposure to Covid-19.

"The information gathered confirms that at the time when Donna Coleman tested positive for Covid-19, the general levels of Covid-19 infection within the community was very high."

The HSE is the government body that is responsible for the regulation and enforcement of workplace safety.

It opened an investigation into Donna Coleman’s death after UCU raised Covid health and safety concerns with both the college and the HSE.

Burnley College have been approached for comment. Credit: Google Maps

Health and safety failings identified by the HSE include:

  • A failure to meet social distancing and ventilation requirements within the office that Donna shared with two colleagues, one of whom also tested positive for Covid on 14 December 2020.

  • A failure to meet social distancing requirements during meetings held within college with external parties.

  • A failure to meet social distancing requirements during social activities held by the college on site. On 18 December 2020, Burnley College held a Christmas party for all staff members, despite the increasing number of Covid cases amongst staff.

  • A failure to inform close contacts of those who tested positive.  Staff were being encouraged not to report close contacts and staff and students were not notified if they were defined as a ‘contact’.  In addition, people representing the Senator Group who visited Burnley College on 10 December 2020 were not notified by Burnley College that they were close contacts to Donna Coleman, who was confirmed positive on the 14 December 2020.

  • A failure to monitor and enforce wearing of face coverings by some staff members and some senior managers.   

Marie Monaghan, representative from the UCU who collected evidence and gave it to the HSE, said the union welcomes the findings but does not agree.

The UCU 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.

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

The HSE letter says Burnley College took steps in early 2021 to improve Covid-19 control measures.

ITV Granada Reports have contacted Burnley College for comment.