School fined after member of the public sustains fatal head injury in fall

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Article

26 April, 2021

A school has been fined after a member of public tripped over a retaining wall and sustained a fatal head injury.

Peterborough Magistrates' Court heard how on 17 February 2017, a family member attended The Leys & St Faith's Foundation School in Cambridge (an independent school) to watch an evening performance. While walking towards the hall the woman tripped over a small retaining wall and fell to the ground sustaining a serious head injury. She died six days later in hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that The Leys & St Faith's Foundation School had failed to ensure the area was adequately lit. A pedestrian site safety assessment failed to identify the risk of tripping over the wall and did not take into consideration the lighting conditions or potential effect of poor lighting on pedestrian safety at night.

The Leys and St Faith's Foundation School pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were fined of £52,800 and ordered to pay costs of £10,040.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Graham Tompkins said: "This tragic incident was easily preventable, and the risk should have been identified.

"The school should have taken measures to improve lighting and install a handrail on top of the wall to increase the overall height."

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Forbes Comment

The Defendant was an independent registered charity school. Had the school fallen within the responsibility of the local education authority/Council then the level of the fine imposed by the court may have been significantly higher. The starting point for the Court on sentencing is to determine the size of the organisation, which for local authorities and similar public bodies is the Annual Revenue Budget. For charities, this will be the annual audited accounts. The purpose of the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real impact which will bring home to management the need to comply with health and safety legislation. However, for a public body or charity, the guidelines provides that the fine should normally be substantially reduced if the organisation is able to demonstrate the proposed fine would have a significant impact on the provision of its services.

Apart from the HSE fine the school may also face a civil liability claim for compensation from the estate of the deceased bringing a claim under the Law Reform Act 1934 and Fatal Accidents Act 1976. The legal basis of the claim for negligence would be under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.

Premises risk assessments needs to ensure that they are undertaken by competent and trained persons and that they are suitable and sufficient. In this instance, the risk assessment failed to identify the risk of tripping over the low level wall and the poor lighting in the area which are potential hazards which should have been identified giving rise to a foreseeable risk of injury. The carrying out of a risk assessment during daylight hours may not have appreciated the risk factors of tripping and the low lighting levels during visits in the evening. These are all factors that need to be taken into consideration when carrying out your risk assessments.

For more information contact Ridwaan Omar in our Insurance department via email or phone on 01254 222457. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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