HSE prosecutes school

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28 February, 2022

With school trips re-commencing both for days out and for weekends away, it is important that schools carefully consider the guidance provided by the Health and Safety Executive before ascending up mountains or embarking upon open swimming or water sports activities.

There are two types of visits which school leaders should be aware of in determining what risks they should consider before leaving the classroom. For those routine visits then the risks involved are mainly just slips and trips and ought to be contained within the policies and procedures of the school. School leaders may only need to undertake a limited amount of planning from that which they encounter with the children every day.

For those visits which may involve an unusual activity, are a distance away from the school, require specialist skills or the location itself presents risks, then a thorough risk-assessment should be conducted beforehand by an individual who has the knowledge and experience to make that informed assessment. The assessment may require consultation with a specialist individual or suitably competent body to ascertain what factors they should consider when planning their trip. The assessment may need the approval of not only a headteacher but also the Governing Board.

If a school uses an outside organisation for an activity, they must always check that the organisation has appropriate safety standards and liability insurance. A school may wish to ascertain if the organisation has been awarded a quality badge from The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom which is awarded to organisations who have demonstrated that they have obtained nationally recognised standards.

A failure to undertake a detailed risk assessment and then comply with it can result in prosecution by the HSE if things go wrong.

This was the case for one school who took a group of school children to Keswick in the Lake District on 5 March 2020. This involved a trip with a schoolteacher and a Teaching Assistant who took 13 Year 10 children climbing up a mountain. The weather had been cold, wet and icy even before they commenced their walk and this information was readily accessible on a weather report. Whilst ascending up the mountain at least two members of the public had advised the staff not to continue due to the conditions and to turn back. However, the group continued. Similarly, the clothes worn by the children were also unsuitable for this type of activity with several of the children wearing school shoes and uniform and others wearing trainers. Furthermore, the two staff members did not have experience of such environments in wintery conditions. Whilst they had taken a map with them, they relied on a phone to act as a compass.

The group made it to the top of the mountain but on their descent, they inadvertently took the wrong direction and ended up in terrain much worse than that which they had previously encountered. One child fell several metres due to ice and another child panicked and ran off from the group. As darkness set in and the temperature continued to drop, the group had to be rescued by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team.

On 17 February 2022 at a hearing at Newcastle Magistrates' Court, the school was fined £30,000 for an event that was entirely avoidable. Forbes Solicitors would always recommend that a school appoints an Educational Visits Coordinator to take the lead on all visits outside of the school premises who has training and experience in determining the important risk factors to consider.

For more information contact Carrie Gilgun in our Regulatory department via email or phone on 01772 220 022. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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