Lathe accident – SBC admits H&S breaches

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No risk assessment was carried out on machinery in a craft and technology class two years prior to an accident at Galashiels Academy which left a 14-year-old pupil severely injured and permanently disfigured.

At Selkirk Sheriff Court on Monday, Scottish Borders Council admitted breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of pupils carrying out activities in craft and design technology classes, and failing to ensure a lathe routinely used by pupils was properly guarded and pupils were not exposed to risk of injury by entanglement with moving parts.

A third-year student had been warned the previous day about the dangers of wearing a scarf while operating machinery. On November 16, 2007, her scarf became entangled in an unguarded feedshaft on a lathe and the girl suffered a neck burn requiring 40 stitches.

She spent a total of 10 days in hospital and was off school for some six months. A civil claim for damages was settled in 2011 for a five-figure sum.

Prosecutor Carrie Macfarlane told how a scarf, habitually worn by the pupil, became entangled in the unguarded lathe, resulting in disfiguring injuries. She said there were four lathes in the classroom, but only one in that condition.

Miss Macfarlane said the pupil had recently transferred to the class and the day before the accident a technician noticed her approaching the lathe wearing a scarf around her neck and “advised her of the risk of wearing a scarf while operating machinery”.

“The following day she had another class and attended, again wearing the green scarf around her neck,” said Miss Macfarlane. “She wore it habitually and simply forgot it was there,” she added.

The pupil, who was wearing goggles and a protective apron, asked if she could start the training lathe and a teacher turned it on.

“She bent forward to operate the controls and one end of the scarf became entangled in the operating feedshaft of the lathe, which was unguarded, and began to wind her in closer to the lathe.”

Miss Macfarlane said two pupils tried to assist the girl, who then ran out of the classroom.

The pupil was taken to Borders General Hospital complaining of “a burning sensation” on her neck and was treated for friction burn marks, burning and redness, spending three days there before being discharged.

The 14-year-old was then referred to St John’s Hospital in Livingston where, after being seen by a plastic surgeon, had “an emergency admission”.

“She received 40 sutures under general anaesthetic to a 2cm-wide, nearly-circumferential burn around her neck and spent seven days in hospital,” explained Miss Macfarlane.

“She was on painkillers for six weeks and it was some six months later before she returned to school. She has a 28cm pale residual scar on her neck, and is very self-conscious about it, wearing high-necked tops and scarves,” she added.

“Principal teachers were given training to carry out the relevant risk assessments, but within Galashiels Academy this was met with some resistance from the teacher in craft and design,” continued Miss Macfarlane.

She said no risk assessment was carried out on the machines between 2005 and 2007, with the teacher claiming he had “neither the time nor the training”.

“The risks were not identified and control measures, like a guard, were lost,” she added.

Miss Macfarlane said the offence carried “a limitless fine”.

Ranald Macpherson, for the local authority, said the council was well aware of the seriousness of the offence and appreciated the accident had been “traumatic and frightening” for the pupil.

He said the council expressed its unreserved apology to the girl and also to her parents who had the right to expect she would not have been injured at school.

He conceded there was no risk assessment specific to the machine, adding there had been “tension” between the teacher and the council over the issue of risk assessments.

Mr Macpherson said the teacher was “removed from classroom duties after this incident and shortly afterwards took early retirement”.

Mr Macpherson said the pupil had not suffered any disability as a result of the accident, and she left Galashiels Academy for a course at Borders College before beginning employment.

He said the Newtown St Boswells-based authority, responsible for 72 schools and 15,000 pupils, had an annual budget of £265million and any fine would be paid from an unallocated reserve fund so that services would not be affected.

Sheriff Kevin Drummond deferred sentence until Monday.