Thornton School fined after man is hurt in climbing wall accident

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: SCENE: The climbing wall at Thornton Grammar School SCENE: The climbing wall at Thornton Grammar School

A secondary school has been ordered to pay £12,500 in fines and costs after one of its staff members was injured when he fell 30ft off its climbing wall.

Stephen Painter, employed in the PE department at Thornton Grammar, had not been wearing a helmet and there were no padded mats at the time, magistrates were told yesterday.

Michael Elliker, prosecuting on behalf of the Health & Safety Executive, told the court Mr Painter had been rigging ropes ahead of a lesson for pupils when the accident happened in November, 2011.

He had asked a colleague David Ashmore, below, to give him some slack but as he reached out to attach the next bit of rope to an artificial rock, the rock-shaped hand-hold spun causing him to fall.

“Mr Ashmore should have been able to hold Mr Painter’s weight, clearly it did not happen,” said Mr Elliker adding that Mr Painter, who worked as a resource and equipment manager, had now recovered from the serious injuries he had suffered and had returned to work.

Mr Elliker told District Judge Susan Bouch, who was sitting at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court, that a health and safety investigation found the whole system around the climbing wall was “ad-hoc”, adding: “There was nothing in writing, no guidelines, no health and safety in place, no individual charged with the responsibility of overseeing what was happening with the wall, no individual in charge.

“Everyone assumed other people had responsibility.”

The school pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety at work of its employees.

In mitigation for the school, Lisa Judge said at the time of the accident, the wall – built by a member of staff in the 1990s – was the next on the list of priorities during a health and safety review by newly-arrived head teacher Chris Sampson.

She said Mr Sampson, his deputy Clive Truelove and the governors sincerely apologised to Mr Painter for his injuries.

She told the court: “A utopian climbing wall is now in existence. The school has done everything it can to make sure it is 100 per cent safe for the children – although the reality is no climbing wall can be absolutely safe.” Mrs Judge said that since the HSE probe, the school had spent £250,000 on safety measures. She also pointed out that the district judge was “between a rock and a hard place” in deciding what fine to give the school because any financial penalty would have to come out of the school’s pocket.

District Judge Bouch said she was satisfied the incident had been because of neglectful behaviour by the school rather than a deliberate act and there was no suggestion it had been the result of a cost-saving.

Fining the school £5,000 and ordering it to pay £7,500 prosecution costs and a £15 surcharge, she said: “I’m satisfied it was more of the school not ensuring one person was responsible for the wall and that all the health and safety regulations were complied with.”

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