In November 2012 Essex County Council were fined £20,000 with £10,000 costs following an incident where a child nearly drowned during a swimming lesson in a school’s pool. The 9-year-old boy was pulled from the water blue in colour and needed resuscitation.
The council was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that it had failed to provide schools with adequate information and guidance on how to safely manage and run their swimming pools. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that the boy and the rest of his class had been in the pool with inadequate supervision.
After coming round at the pool side, he was taken to hospital where he had to stay for 26 hours. His mother, speaking in a statement taken as part of the HSE investigation, said that her son was now frightened of water and was generally not as happy as before.
Magistrates heard that the council, as the employer, should have provided the school with sufficient information to prepare operating and emergency plans for the swimming pool, and should have taken steps to ensure the guidance had been followed.
Essex County Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
An HSE inspector said that the incident could have ended in tragedy and clearly demonstrated the need for local authorities to provide clear and up-to-date training, guidance and information to schools where they are the employer, so that schools can safely manage their swimming pools.
The HSE inspector added that it also demonstrated that local authorities have a duty to ensure that where issues have been identified with schools not following guidance, remedial steps are taken to rectify these failings.
She added that, “HSE will not hesitate to prosecute those who put lives at risk and compromise safety.”
Schools should also note that if they have to take their pupils to other premises, they discharge their duty of care if they know the premises and if the premises are apparently safe, and if they know that the premises are staffed by competent and careful persons.
In an important preliminary judgement a judge said that provided the school makes a reasonable investigation that particular standards are met, it does not follow that the school or local authority’s responsibility applies where standards are not met. The judge considered that it is the responsibility of the firm specialising in swimming services to lay down the safe system; the liability of the school or local authority depends on whether that firm has been carefully selected for the task.
Following the judgement Essex CC have reminded their own schools (plus all the other foundation schools and academies they are not responsible for) that all schools have a mandatory duty to train their Heads, acting Heads, and governors in their responsibilities for health and safety. Depending on the status of the school the Local Authority or the governing body or the academy trust will be the employer and responsible for the proper conduct of the school, and the appropriate training. The Head is responsible for the internal management of the school but at times has an even higher duty e.g. a personal responsibility for fire safety.
The Essex C.C. suggests:
- refresher training every three years;
- monitoring satisfactory completion of annual health and safety management; and
- working with schools to improve, update and simplify health and safety guidance.
The Council recommends to schools that they should review their health and safety policies, monitoring and reporting procedures to minimise the risk of any incident happening.
The Handsam Health and Safety package currently supports schools in achieving all of these duties and requirements.
Our management system ensures that policies and procedures are up-to-date, all relevant monitoring and reporting has been completed, and gives instant access to all the appropriate guidance on all school health and safety topics. In short we ensure the school is compliant.
Our on-line training modules ensure that Heads, governors and other relevant staff, such as Health and Safety Managers, Fire Marshals, First Aiders, are kept up-to-date but without the expense of staff going out of school for the training.