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September 9, 2009

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Schoolchild given “inappropriate” job suffers burns

A firm responsible for finding work placements for school children failed to carry out a risk assessment at a garage where a child caught fire.

Magistrates heard that Deansfield High School, in Wolverhampton, had employed Making Learning Work Ltd to find work placements for 32 pupils.

As part of its contract with the school, Making Learning Work was required to undertake a risk assessment of every site where pupils were placed. In January 2006 the company arranged for a 14-year-old boy to do several weeks of work experience at R&B Motor Services in Wolverhampton. But no risk assessment was carried out, and the boy was left under the supervision of a migrant worker who didn’t speak English.

On 30 January 2006, the schoolboy and his supervisor were retrieving petrol from the fuel tank of a vehicle. The supervisor was using a fuel pump to remove the petrol, but he had forgotten to put in place a container to store the petrol. In trying to prevent the fuel from coming out the end of the pump, he put his finger over the end of the hose, but this caused petrol to spray on to the boy’s overalls. A spark then emitted from the pump, and ignited to petrol on the boy’s clothes. The teenager was able to put out the flames by rolling on the floor, and was fortunate to only suffer minor burns to his right wrist.

The garage did not report the incident and the boy carried on working until the end of the day. Once Making Learning Work became aware of what had happened it immediately informed the HSE.

HSE inspector, John Healy, said: “Placing a 14-year-old schoolboy in extended work experience at R&B Motor Services was totally inappropriate. Probable inexperience and lack of maturity makes it essential that young people’s work-experience placements are risk-assessed before the start date.”

Making Learning Work appeared in Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court on 8 September and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was given a one-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay full costs of £22,000.

In a previous hearing, Harjinder Kumar, owner of R&B Motor Services, pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. The garage was fined £3500 and ordered to pay £1500 in costs.

Making Learning Work mitigated that this was an isolated incident and it had no previous convictions. It has subsequently employed a dedicated risk assessor, who is required to visit the premises of all firms that wish to offer work placements before children start work at these sites.

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