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January 29, 2009

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Unsupervised child suffers “horrific” injury on nursery outing

A four-year-old child received serious internal injuries after being swept down a water spillway and becoming impaled on a tree branch, a court heard.

A group of 20 children, from Clockwork Day Nursery were taken on an outing to Stamford Park, Ashton-under-Lyne on 7 June 2006. The children, aged between four and 11, were taken to the park by four nursery staff, one of whom was a female worker who had not been cleared to work with children. One of the children had special needs and required one-to-one care.

The children were left to play without supervision and ran out of sight of the staff. A number of the children wandered off into some bushes and came across a water spillway, which was channelling water from a nearby reservoir. The spillway is protected by a two-foot wall on each side and some of the children stepped down into the waterway in order to cross to the other side.

One of the children, Sidney Holt, was attempting to cross the water, when he slipped on some algae and was swept 24 metres to the bottom of the spillway and became impaled on a branch in his stomach.

HSE inspector Catherine Willars told SHP that some of the children ran back to inform the nursery staff about the accident but the staff didn’t believe them and ignored their warning. A passer-by found Sidney and carried him back to level ground before calling for an ambulance. The nursery staff only became aware that the boy was actually injured when the ambulance arrived. Sidney was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery. He was fortunate that the branch had not pierced any vital organs.

Willars also said that Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC), which managed the park, had an obligation to protect children from hazards. She also revealed the council was issued with an Improvement Notice after the accident, which ordered it to erect fencing around the spillway in order to prevent children from gaining access to the water.

Clockwork Day Nursery Ltd pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on 17 January 2008 to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999. The company was fined a total of £21,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6779. The nursery appealed against the sentence but the decision was upheld at Manchester Crown Court on 26 January this year.

Tameside MBC pleaded guilty to breaching both regulations at the same Crown Court hearing and was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £23,565 costs.

In mitigation, Clockwork Day Nursery said that the incident occurred at a time when all four members of its senior management were absent due to exceptional circumstances. This had left it short-staffed and without anyone present who was properly trained or knowledgeable enough to carry out a risk assessment during the trip.

The council said that it deeply regretted the incident and has responded to the terms of the Improvement Notice by erecting a fence around the spillway to prevent children from being able to gain access.

Inspector Willars said: “These cases are not about stopping children having fun. However, there is an obligation to protect vulnerable people from dangers. This was a serious incident, which resulted in a child receiving horrific abdominal injuries. It could have easily been avoided had simple and sensible precautions been taken by the nursery and the council.

“Tameside MBC failed to recognise the potential for danger and did not make a suitable assessment of risks to the public and, in particular, children, from the accessible and unprotected water channel.

“The nursery did not carry out a sufficient risk assessment for the outing and failed to ensure that the injured child was not put at risk. Supervision is critical and should reflect the needs of the party, the activities being carried out, the age and ability range of the children, and the risks of the location.”

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