08 July, 2021
A secondary school in Chelmsford has been fined £16,700 and ordered to pay costs of £12,000 following an accident that saw an unsecured locker unit fall and fatally injure a young boy.
Chelmsford Magistrates' Court heard that on 23 May 2019, nine-year-old Leo Latifi had been attending an after-school swimming lesson at the sports centre of Great Baddow High School in Chelmsford, Essex.
Leo and another young child had been waiting in the boy's changing room for their lesson to start. However, inside the changing room, an installation of school lockers, one with its door missing, offered an improvised climbing frame for the children.
As they climbed the front of the locker unit, it toppled forward, falling on Leo, who sustained a fatal head injury. The other child managed to jump clear.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the locker unit was 180cm tall and weighed 188kg. It had not been secured to the wall to prevent it from toppling over, despite the unit having fixing brackets fitted as part of its structure.
Great Baddow High School, a comprehensive specialising in sports, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £16,700 and ordered to pay costs of £12,000.
The court heard how several scenarios could have caused the unit to move, including an adult stepping onto the lowest edge of the unit to pull at a bag stuck in a top tier locker or to clean the top the unit.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Saffron Turnell said: 'This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young child which has, and will continue to deeply affect his loving family, his friends and acquaintances.
'This incident could easily have been prevented had the school simply ensured the locker unit had been securely fixed to the wall. However, it had failed to identify the risk associated with the potential for the unit to topple over and to put in place appropriate monitoring arrangements to ensure that it stayed secure.
'At the inquest into Leo's death last year, the jury agreed that this tragedy was significantly contributed to by a lack of appropriate assessment to a clear and obvious risk. This remained the case for around six years.
'I therefore urge all organisations to urgently check that any free-standing furniture is appropriately assessed and properly secured.'
Leo's family commented: 'Nothing can bring back our precious Leo, and the prosecution hearing is yet another very difficult time when we will have to re-live what happened on the terrible day he died.
'Families must be sure that their children will be kept safe when they are at school, in the care of other adults and organisations. We can only hope that no one else has to suffer what we have endured these past two years since our Leo lost his life.
'If the prosecution makes other schools more alert to their responsibilities in looking after equipment that could put children at risk, then that is all we can ask for right now.'
This is a tragic case, made ever more so by the foreseeability and preventability of the accident leading to the child's death. In all education establishments, be they local authority controlled, academy schools or private schools, premises risk assessments are essential to safeguarding the safety of all persons coming onto the premises and those holding risk responsibility are legally obliged to ensure that reasonable control measures are implemented in a timely manner whenever hazards are identified.
The HSE have made a plea to schools to review their assets and equipment and take appropriate action to limit the risk of a further tragedy arising. The approaching summer holiday period offers an excellent opportunity to survey vacated educational premises with fresh eyes and analyse existing risks. This has to be a high priority for all schools offering locker facilities of a similar type to this case.
Incidents involving the accidental death of a child will usually lead to an Inquest, as in this case.
The Inquest Rules give power to the Coroner to issue a Regulation 28 'Preventing Future Death' report (PFD) on any person or organisation felt to have caused or contributed to the death, if it is believed that lessons have not been learnt or remedial actions taken to prevent the risk recurring. The use of a PFD is a key tool to drive operational and systemic improvement of health, welfare and safety standards, and is used to ensure that the State protects its citizens' right to life (ECHR Article 2). All PFD reports are sent to the Chief Coroner and any interested party and can be shared further afield to wider organisations holding an interest such as the Department of Education.