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Will Health and Safety reporting and investigation requirements change following Ruth Perry's death?

Ruth Perry was a Headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading. She took her own life after The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills ("Ofsted") inspected the school, downgrading its rating from "Outstanding" to "Inadequate". Her family believes that the mental toll of the inspection ultimately led to Ruth Perry's death, and notes that she was not the first headteacher to take her life after an Ofsted inspection.

Employers have a duty of care to workers and to ensuring their health, safety and welfare including by preventing and mitigating risks to worker's physical and mental health. The Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") recognises that such risks can lead to suicidal ideation, intent and behaviour. However, as it stands, suicide is not reportable for the purpose of The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, that requires certain injuries and deaths to be reported to HSE. Such reports are required by law and necessary so that relevant authorities can identify, investigate and mitigate risks of workplace accidents.

In its recent ten-year strategy, HSE notes an increasing trend of work-related ill-health including stress, depression and anxiety, targeting a particular focus on supporting good mental health at work to combat this. HSE has since updated its guidance on mental health in the workplace, encouraging uptake by all employers of the "Core Standards" set out by the 2017 Thriving at Work Report, which includes promotion of good mental health, awareness sharing and routine monitoring. In light of mounting scrutiny of employers' handling of workplace pressures and employees' mental health, such measures may not go far enough, and further change is needed. As always, such changes are informed by an understanding of risks, and that may start with wider reporting requirements.

Commenting on the adequacy of the existing Health and Safety Framework, an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal following Ruth Perry’s death calls for an immediate enquiry into work-related stress in the education sector and for the alignment of work-related suicide with other occupational deaths, demanding that they are subject to the same reporting and prevention requirements and investigated by HSE.

Our summary of HSE's ten-year strategy announcement and links to further content can be found here: People & Places – What will the next ten years of Health & Safety enforcement look like? (charlesrussellspeechlys.com).

*Help for suicide thoughts is available right now if you need it. You do not have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. For more information and to talk to someone, see here

...the Health and Safety Executive must investigate every work-related suicide, in whichever sector they occur and ensure that work-related suicides are subject to the same requirements for reporting and prevention as other occupational deaths. It should also launch an immediate inquiry into work related stress in the education sector.

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