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West Yorkshire school in court over climbing wall fall

Date:
19 February 2014

A Bradford grammar school has been fined after a PE equipment manager suffered multiple fractures when he fell nine metres from a climbing wall.

Stephen Painter, 30, from Haworth, was just days away from becoming a father when the incident happened at Thornton Grammar School on 3 November 2011. He broke a forearm and elbow, fractured two vertebrae and bit through his tongue.

A prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after inspectors identified serious safety failings at the school.

Bradford Magistrates heard today (19 Feb) that Mr Painter, who looked after resources and equipment in the PE department, had gradually got more involved in helping out with student lessons and had learned the basics of climbing a rigged wall and belaying techniques.

He was working his way up the wall to rig it for a lesson by threading the rope through anchor points. A colleague on the ground was belaying to provide added rope when needed, but minimising the amount of loose rope, which means a slip would only mean a drop of a short distance for the climber.

However, the technique failed and Mr Painter fell during the rigging, hitting the gym floor below. There were no mats or padding and he was not wearing a helmet.

The court was told HSE found the management of the wall and the safety system regarding it was almost none existent; the competence of the staff using it and providing instruction to others was an after-thought and not effectively put in place.

It was two months before Mr Painter was able to help his wife with their first baby after she was born just eight days after his fall.

Thornton Grammar School, of Leaventhorpe Lane, Bradford, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £7,500 in costs after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Geoff Fletcher said:

“This was a serious incident that could have been prevented. In a fall of that scale, it is fortunate that we were not dealing with a fatality.

“The risks to those engaged in climbing are self-evident but those risks should be addressed in line with available guidance. It is essential that those who provide climbing instructions should themselves be properly trained and certificated.

“The training and development of staff using the climbing wall at this school was not adequate and they were allowed to undertake tasks on it that they had not been trained for.

“Thornton Grammar School failed to properly address risks to the safety of staff and ensure the climbing wall was managed safely.”   Advice and information on health and safety in schools is available at http://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 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

 

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