Health & Safety - Focus on School Trips
The Health and Safety Executive of Great Britain (“HSE”) has recently reported on a prosecution relating to a school trip organised by Gateshead Cheder in March 2020.
The school had organised a trip for thirteen Year 10 pupils to climb Helvellyn in the Lake District. The group was subsequently rescued by Keswick Mountain Rescue Team (KMRT”).
Organisers had chosen to proceed with the trip despite the fact that weather conditions were cold and icy and warnings had been issued in relation to going above the snow line. The group was also warned by members of the public during their ascent but failed to turn back.
Unfortunately some of the children did not have appropriate equipment for the conditions, with some wearing, for example, school shoes or trainers instead of mountain boots.
It is understood that none of the adults present had “formal qualifications in mountain leadership or any experience of mountain environments in winter conditions”.Whilst the group had a map, they were using a smartphone app as a compass for route guidance.
Whilst descending from the 950m summit, the group veered off course and were headed towards a section of steep, vertical rock face.
Whilst no one was seriously injured, a pupil slid on ice and sustained minor cuts. Another pupil reportedly panicked and ran from the group but managed to make it down and was found by members of the public. The rest of the group were rescued by KMRT.
The school subsequently pleaded guilty to breaches of Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (etc) Act 1974. (In brief, these sections require employers to take reasonably practicable steps to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of employees and any third parties who may be affected.) A fine of £30,000 was imposed on the school, along with costs of £4,574.90 (and a victim surcharge of £181).
HSE publishes information and guidance applicable to the education sector; of particular relevance is a guidance note on “School trips and outdoor learning activities – Tackling the health and safety myths”.
It is important to note that HSE emphasises a sensible and proportionate approach to risk management in schools. The guidance note states:
“HSE wants to encourage all schools and local authorities to remove wasteful bureaucracy imposed on those organising trips and activities – so that focus is on how the real risks are managed and not on the paperwork. Our primary interest is in real risks arising from serious breaches of the law, and any investigations are targeted at these issues.”
In summary, participating in school trips can bring a range of benefits for pupils. Indeed HSE’s guidance note states: “Well-managed school trips and outdoor activities are great for children. Children won’t learn about risk if they’re wrapped in cotton wool.”
However, this case acts as a reminder to schools to ensure that they plan trips and activities in a proportionate way to ensure real risks are effectively managed. Where a school does not have the skills necessary to plan for or run a particular activity, expertise can be sought from, for example, specialist activity providers.
*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.