A teenager lost part of his finger in a design and technology lesson at King James’s School, a court heard this week.
North Yorkshire County Council has been ordered to pay thousands of pounds in fines and legal costs after the pupil lost the tip of his right index finger following an accident with a lathe while in class.
The 14-year-old boy was putting the finishing touches to a metal torch he was making in a design and technology lesson at King James’s School in Knaresborough when he was told to use a polishing cloth on it while the lathe was turning.
Lisa Roberts QC, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court on Monday (July 13) that the cloth became entangled and dragged his hand into the rotating lathe and the tip of his finger was almost severed before he could switch it off. He was taken to hospital in Harrogate and efforts were made to re-attach it, but they were not successful and the tip of the boy’s finger had to be amputated.
Miss Roberts said there was a notice attached to the lathe warning against the use of loose clothing, neckties and jewellery and added it was the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) case the risk of using a polishing cloth should have been self-evident.
She said the school had not identified the risk and over a period of time the practice of using the cloth had become accepted when it was “regrettably inherently unsafe”. The boy, although continuing with his schooling and sport, was conscious of his loss, the court heard.
North Yorkshire County Council admitted as an employer failing to ensure the reasonable protection of persons not in their employment and in addition to a £5,000 fine was ordered to pay £28,287.85 prosecution costs.
Robert Smith QC, representing the council, said it had an excellent safety record covering the 120,000 children in the county and the health and safety breach was “out of character and exceptional”.
Since the accident on November 19, 2013, the school had paid out of its own budget for health and safety consultants to do a two-day audit at the school. Notices had also been sent out at the time by the council to all head teachers and design and technology departments to stop the practice and use other safe methods.
Headteacher Carl Sugden said: “The welfare of our students is always a priority for this school. For this reason we have continued working very closely with the local authority since this deeply regrettable accident to make sure all of the necessary health and safety procedures are further enhanced.”
Both the school and the authority have acknowledged the distress caused however, the local authority has stated that the action of the Health and Safety Executive was “unnecessary and disproportionate.”
In the hearing the judge recognised the strong reputation of both the school and the local authority and did not view the accident as a result of systemic failure by either. A council spokesperson said: “He was keen to make clear that the incident did not arise from any failings to heed warnings or advice and neither was it the result of cost cutting or inadequate training.”
The council’s deputy leader, Coun Gareth Dadd, said the incident was “a one-off”, adding: “We have a very good safety record and deeply regret this incident which was a one-off.
“We have not had any incident like this in our schools for 40 years and therefore feel it is unfortunate that the Health and Safety Executive chose to incur significant costs to achieve this outcome.
“In our view it was unnecessary and disproportionate given the actions of the school and the local authority following the incident.”
Civil action is ongoing.