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High school fined after pupil's climbing wall injury

Date:
7 June 2013

An Essex high school has been fined for safety failings after a 14-year-old boy fell more than four metres from a climbing wall.

The teenager was one of four pupils selected to try their first-ever ‘lead climb’, a more advanced, mainly rock-climbing technique, during a PE lesson at Manningtree High School on 17 October 2012.

He had managed to clip on to three points as he ascended the climbing wall but struggled with the fourth. A fellow pupil, similarly inexperienced, had been told to ‘belay’ the rope for the boy, keeping it taut or feeding more as necessary. After the climber grew tired, the instructor told him to let go of the climbing wall, which he did.

However, instead of being supported by the belay technique, he fell unrestrained over four metres and hit the safety mat on the floor. The pupil, now 15, suffered a fractured heel bone, which was later pinned and plated.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Manningtree High School today (7 June) at Colchester Magistrates’ Court.

HSE found that prior to the lesson none of the four pupils were aware what lead-climbing was or the risks involved and none had been properly trained or prepared for the more advanced type of climbing that was being attempted.

In addition the school failed to have an adequate safety management system in place for lead-climbing, and the instructor was not competent to teach or supervise lead-climbing.

Manningtree High School, of Colchester Road, Manningtree, was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay £1,641 in costs after pleading guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to adequately protect the pupils against the risk of falls.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Glyn Davies said:

"A teenage boy sustained a totally preventable injury that required an operation, saw him on crutches for more than 14 weeks, and from which he is still recovering.

"Inexperienced pupils receiving climbing instruction during PE lessons are completely reliant for their safety on the competence of their climbing instructor and the adequacy of the school’s safety management system.

"Unfortunately in this case pupils were let down by Manningtree High School’s failure to ensure the climbing activity was carried out safely and sadly this resulted in one pupil getting hurt."

Advice and information on health and safety in schools is available at www.hse.gov.uk/services/education and from national and local government.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety’.

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