In spring 2019, a 9 year old child who was waiting to start a swimming lesson with a swim school that had hired a school pool, climbed on to a bank of lockers with a friend. It appears that they climbed up onto a bank of changing room lockers that were installed against a wall and on top of a shallow plinth. During the course of this, the lockers toppled off the plinth. One child managed to jump clear but the second child fell backwards and it appears that he struck his head on a fixed bench in the changing room. As a consequence he tragically suffered fatal injuries.
The accident was reported to the HSE and as a result of their investigation, the school was advised that a prosecution would be brought. The school was charged with a single offence under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and it was alleged that they had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people not in their employment.
The school pleaded guilty and sentencing was handed down in June 2021 with the fine and costs amounting to just under £30,000.
The circumstances leading to the accident
Some years prior to the accident and whilst the school, now an Academy, was under the control of the County Council, work to refurbish the changing rooms was commissioned. This included installing new lockers in both the male and female changing rooms. The lockers were 5 units wide and 3 units high and were installed on a small plinth and likely to have been fixed to the wall at the back of the top row.
A few years later, the vinyl flooring in the changing rooms was replaced during the course of which, the lockers and plinths were removed to allow the flooring to be laid underneath them. On conclusion of the work, the plinths and lockers were replaced and it seemed likely that the contractor did not secure them to the wall. Furthermore, the school was unaware that the lockers would be removed by the contractor so no check was done to ensure thjat they had been replaced properly.
In spite of clear instructions from the swim school to parents to be responsible for their children when not in a swimming lesson, the two children were unsupervised in the changing rooms. The school’s contract for hire required the hirer to be responsible for all activities and participants.
The outcome and lessons to be learned
Expert evidence was called by the HSE and the defendants. An aspect of debate was the extent to which the accident had been foreseeable. For the defence, it was argued that there was no guidance on locker installations in any of the then contemporary swimming pool guidance publications and only general guidance from the Association for Physical Education and no evidence to show that this type of accident had occurred before.
The HSE argued that unsupervised use of the changing rooms could easily have led to this type of accident and that, with some designs of lockers, pulling a large sports bag out of the locker could result in sufficient force being exerted to topple an unsecured locker. Although this was disputed by the expert witness of the defence that this was not likely to have happened in this case.
Contracts for work to be done in leisure facilities are generally fairly watertight but you have to ask yourself the question as to the extent that work is monitored and is being completed in accordance with the contract specifications. Once work is complete, is the finished product inspected for quality and completeness?
Even without work being undertaken, do you have a programme of inspections that include the security and stability of locker installations, especially when they are against a wall and perhaps three or four banks high? Damage to lockers is not uncommon and usually involves the locks and door hinges but routine inspections should go further.
Another matter that arose out of this accident is with regard to the monitoring of private hire groups. It is important that, as the operator of a facility, you are aware of what takes place during a private hire session where you may not have staff in immediate attendance as can be the case with, for example, swimming clubs who provide their own pool supervision.
It is important to have the following in place:
- Written specifications for work to be done by contractors
- Monitoring of work being done by an appropriate person
- Inspection of all finished work
- With items such as lockers or other ‘fixed’ furniture, routine visual inspections to confirm the condition of fixings and any corrective action if needed
- Monitoring of activities and participant behaviour involving private hire groups
QLM are a market leading leisure health and safety and management consultancy that provide strategic and operational support and advice to the sport, leisure, culture, hospitality and holiday park sectors.
To find out more about QLM and how we can support you or if are concerned about any aspect of this article in relation to your facility, school, hotel or holiday park, please do not hesitate to contact us by completing the form below.