29 September 2014
The States Employment Board (SEB) was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000 by the Royal Court on 27 June 2014, after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989 (HSW Law).
The prosecution arose from an accident involving a 16 year old pupil of Victoria College, who fell approximately 15 feet over a rocky outcrop onto a tarmacked woodland path in the school grounds whilst participating in a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) activity.
The pupil concerned sustained serious injuries including a compound fracture to his wrist and life changing head injuries.
At the time of the accident a school teacher, who was also an Adult Volunteer with the school’s CCF, Army Section, was conducting a ‘camouflage and concealment’ activity in and around the woodland paths leading up from Pleasant Street to the main college building at the top of the hill.
This area was used for a variety of school and CCF related activities.
Despite the rocky outcrops being recognised as high risk, being clearly identified on the school survey and cartography map, and the school’s orienteering course being specifically designed to lead participants away from the high rock areas, the area had never been subject to formal risk assessment.
A risk assessment is a fundamental step in managing health and safety and provides the opportunity to take action which is proportionate to the risks which are faced in any particular circumstances.
The HSW Law requires a sensible and proportionate control of real risks, including those associated with activities undertaken by children. This does not mean children, including school pupils, cannot be exposed to environments which carry a degree of risk – and sometimes potential danger – as long as those risks are well-managed.
When planning and providing opportunities to children the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to focus on controlling those which are real to achieve the right balance between protecting pupils from the most serious risks and allowing them to reap the benefits of the activity.
The area where the accident happened was known to be high risk. The situation was exacerbated as, due to the nature of the activity, it was considered foreseeable that pupils were likely to access the areas of the rocky outcrops due to the greater amount of foliage present, thereby providing a better opportunity to hide.
Unfortunately no steps were taken to reduce or control the real risk of pupils falling over the high rocks during this activity, which could so easily have been achieved by simple means, such as making the area out of bounds, or conducting the activity in a different area of the school grounds.
This was acknowledged by the SEB, who pleaded guilty to failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of pupils involved with the activity.