Earlier this year, a boys' school was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,375 after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in relation to a PE accident involving two pupils.
The boys were taking part in a multi-event lesson, which included triple jump, javelin, discus and shot put.
The landing zone for the shot put was only about 3 metres away from the end of the triple jump sand pit.
When the teacher blew the whistle to mark the end of the lesson, one boy moved from the triple jump area to the edge of the shot put area at the same time as the other was completing his final throw. The first was hit in the head by the shot and suffered a serious head injury. He was in hospital for almost 1 month, but thankfully has since returned to school.
The School had carried out a risk assessment for PE lessons, but the HSE found that this risk assessment was not sufficient for a multi-event lesson and that the School's procedures were inadequate.
Whilst the risk assessment referenced guidance issued by the Association for Physical Education (afpe.org.uk), it did not follow the Association for Physical Education (AFPE) recommendation that such lessons be restricted to a maximum of 4 sports, with only one a throwing event.
The Court concluded that the inclusion of 6 sports, 3 of which were throwing events, had significantly increased the risk to pupils, as had the proximity of the triple jump sand pit to other events.
Schools should review their risk assessments for all PE lessons and sports activities, particularly those for multi-event lessons, fixtures and sports day, in order to assure themselves that their arrangements are appropriate.
If a school intends to run multiple events, including a number of throwing events, these should not take place simultaneously, or if they do, additional control measures should be considered. These may include the provision of well-defined no-go areas for pupils and visitors and adequate supervision and marshalling arrangements.
Schools should also consider their practices against best practice guidance (such from AFPE), as this is likely to be used as a yardstick against which their arrangements will be measured by the Court if something goes wrong.
Most PE lessons and multi events go off without a hitch, however, this prosecution should act as a warning to schools that the HSE can and will prosecute schools for what many may consider to be a pure accident.
Whilst it is possible to insure against compensation claims arising from such incidents and legal defence costs, it is not possible to insure against fines. As a result, any fine would come off the School's bottom line and should note the likelihood of increased sanctions following the recent consultation on sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences.
A sensible review of the planned arrangements and a few common-sense checks could prevent serious injuries and avoid costly and damaging legal proceedings.