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Council in court after schoolgirl seriously injured in lift shaft fall

Date:
25 February 2014

City of Edinburgh Council has been fined after a schoolgirl was seriously injured when she fell more than five metres as teachers attempted to free her from a broken down lift.

Morgan Seaton, then aged 15, sustained three fractured vertebrae, bruising over her lower back and a sprained wrist as a result of the incident at Liberton High School on 8 December 2011. She remained in hospital for two days before being discharged and was unable to return to school for a further two weeks.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and a prosecution brought against the council for serious safety failings.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard today (25 February) that Miss Seaton was in the lift with three other pupils when it stuck between the first and second floors. She called the school’s office from her mobile phone and teachers quickly arrived and told the pupils to remain calm as they tried to affect a rescue.

Rather than use the emergency call button in the lift or call the fire service, teachers and the school janitor decided to fetch the lift key, open the doors and attempt to get the pupils out themselves.

After opening the lift shaft doors on the first floor, staff could see that the bottom third of the lift car was visible at the top of the door opening. They forced open the lift car doors and spoke with the pupils who were trapped within.

One boy was helped to lower himself safely out of the lift down to the first floor corridor. Miss Seaton then manoeuvred herself out of the lift on her stomach until she was suspended feet first out of the opening. One of the teachers stood behind her as she attempted to drop to the floor but instead she fell through the gap between the bottom of the lift and the floor and into the lift shaft where she fell over five metres to the basement.

After her return to school, Miss Seaton continued to suffer pain and discomfort in her back for several months and needed regular physiotherapy and medication.

The court was told the fire service had found on arrival that power to the lift had not been isolated and the car could have resumed moving at any time during the pupils’ ordeal or as the schoolgirl lay injured in the basement waiting for help to arrive.

HSE found that the council failed to ensure that staff at Liberton High School had been given sufficient instructions, information and training to deal with such incidents, and that no suitable risk assessment had been undertaken.

City of Edinburgh Council, of City Chambers, High Street, Edinburgh, was fined £8,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Hazel Dobb, said:

“A 15-year-old girl was seriously injured in an incident that was wholly preventable. As a result she spent several months in pain, her education was disrupted and her social life and part time job were both put completely on hold as she recovered.

“The teachers were well intentioned in their attempts to help, but had they received suitable information and guidance on how to deal with trapped people in lifts they would have called for help and not put pupils at such risk of injury.

“What was important was to make staff aware of the steps they ought to take in such situations. Simply distributing safety instructions to all staff and providing awareness sessions internally would have been sufficient. Unfortunately, this was not done because the risks associated with the use of the lifts had been entirely overlooked by the council.”

Notes to Editors:

1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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. In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation.

3. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states that employers have a duty to conduct their undertakings in such a way to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment who may be effected thereby are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

4. HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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