Stamford Park – HSE prosecution

Background

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

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 was 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 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 at the bottom of the spillway, sustaining stomach injuries.

It emerged 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 the injured boy 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.

Enforcement action

The investigating HSE inspector said that Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC), which managed the park, had an obligation to protect children from hazards. The council had been issued with an Improvement Notice after the accident, requiring fencing to be erected around the spillway to prevent children from gaining access.

Clockwork Day Nursery Ltd pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on 17 January 2008 to breaching Section 3(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 nearly £7,000. The nursery appealed against the sentence but the decision was upheld in the Crown Court.

Tameside MBC pleaded guilty to breaches of the same legislation at the same hearing and was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay over £23,500 costs.

HSE commented: “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.”

Fencing

Photographs taken in February 2009 after the conclusion of the HSE prosecutions, showing the fencing erected by the Council to comply with the Improvement Notice.

PhotographsPhotographs

Comment

From the perspective of the landowner, the key lesson to be drawn is the need for an assessment of risks to users of the park. This should have identified that the park was regularly used by relatively vulnerable groups. It would also have dealt with the characteristics of the different parts of the park, and the easy transition that could be made from a typical urban park with easy terrain, formal flower beds and surfaced paths, to a less developed wooded environment with natural path surfaces, steeper slopes and exposed rocks, created in Victorian times. It is relevant that the spillway is a man-made construction, not a natural feature, and whilst of historic interest, its historic significance is perhaps limited. The fencing is substantial and whilst intrusive in this more natural, wooded setting, this is necessary given the severity of the hazard and the close proximity to the urban park setting.

Links to further information

Health and Safety Executive press release 2009

HSE v Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and Clockwork Day Nursery Ltd. Trafford Magistrates’ Court 17 January 2008

There are additional downloadable files associated with this article

This case law entry was written by Mark Daniels and was published in August 2011

This website entry was last updated on 14 April, 2012

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