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Working at Height – What can go wrong!!!!

Following an accident at a school, a prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) against the schools’ management, after their inspectors identified serious safety failings.

The school has now been fined after a PE equipment manager suffered multiple fractures when he fell nine metres from a climbing wall.  The staff member broke a forearm and elbow, fractured two vertebrae and bit through his tongue.

Magistrates heard that the staff member, who looked after resources and equipment in the PE department, had gradually got more involved in helping out with student lessons and had learned the basics of climbing a rigged wall and belaying techniques.

He was working his way up the wall to rig it for a lesson by threading the rope through anchor points. A colleague on the ground was belaying to provide added rope when needed, but minimising the amount of loose rope, which means a slip would only mean a drop of a short distance for the climber.


However, the technique failed and he fell during the rigging, hitting the gym floor below. Presumaby in addition to a lack of safe systems of work - this was work, not sports, there were no mats or padding in place and he was not wearing a helmet.

The court was told HSE found the management of the wall and the safety system regarding it was almost none existent; the competence of the staff using it and providing instruction to others was an after-thought and not effectively put in place.

After the hearing, HSE said:

“This was a serious incident that could have been prevented. In a fall of that scale, it is fortunate that we were not dealing with a fatality.

“The risks to those engaged in climbing are self-evident but those risks should be addressed in line with available guidance. It is essential that those who provide climbing instructions should themselves be properly trained and certificated.

“The training and development of staff using the climbing wall at this school was not adequate and they were allowed to undertake tasks on it that they had not been trained for.

In this instance you can see that the school failed to properly address the risks to the safety of staff and to ensure that the climbing wall was managed safely.  An effective and robust Working at Height Risk Assessment and Management System would have ensured that this accident and subsequent injuries did not happen.  

Advice and information on health and safety in schools is available by contacting The Safety Organisation Ltd and we will be happy to discuss how we can help you to manage all the risks associated in running a safe and healthy school environment. For more information, please contact us here, or call us on 0800 111 4207.