School Prosecuted Following Climbing Wall Fall

HSE Says Safety Systems Deployed By School Were "Almost Non-Existent"


A Yorkshire grammar school has been fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,500 after a PE equipment manager was injured while attempting to scale a climbing wall.

Thornton Grammar School, which is based in Bradford, admitted to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 during a hearing at the city's magistrates court.

On November 3rd 2011, 30-year-old Stephen Painter from Haworth suffered a broken forearm, elbow and two fractured vertebrae after falling nine metres to the floor. He also bit through his tongue on impact.

He had been preparing the wall for an upcoming lesson when the incident occurred. As he attempted to thread the ropes through anchor points, allowing the students to participate in the activity, he lost his footing.

A colleague on the ground was belaying as Mr Painter climbed, which is a standard practice for giving the climber more rope when it is needed, while at the same time minimising the amount of slack. In theory, this should mean the person on the wall only falls a short distance if they lose their grip.

However, the technique failed and Mr Painter's fall was not broken by protective mats or padding. He was not wearing a helmet either.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the management of the wall and the safety systems used by the school were "almost non-existent" and the provision of clear instructions to those attempting to scale the wall was "an after-thought".

Mr Painter's first child was born just eight days after the accident and it took him two months to recover enough to help his partner look after the baby.
HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher said this was a "serious incident" and it is lucky that Mr Painter was not killed.

"The risks to those engaged in climbing are self-evident but those risks should be addressed in line with available guidance. It is essential that those who provide climbing instructions should themselves be properly trained and certificated.

"Thornton Grammar School failed to properly address risks to the safety of staff and ensure the climbing wall was managed safely."