Disabled child nearly drowned in school swimming pool

A local authority has been fined £20,000 after a child with severe learning and physical difficulties almost drowned in his school’s swimming pool.

The nine-year-old boy was taking part in a swimming session at Harlow Fields School and College, when the incident took place on 23 March last year.

The class was not being properly supervised and when he was pulled out of the pool he was blue in colour. He needed resuscitation and subsequently came round at the poolside.

The HSE investigated the incident and found Essex County Council, which operates the school, had failed to provide adequate information and guidance on how to safely manage and run swimming pools. It also didn’t provide the school with information on how to prepare operating and emergency plans for the pool, and no steps were in place to ensure this guidance was being followed.

As part of the investigation, the boy’s mother told the HSE that the incident had left her son frightened of water and, generally, not as happy as before.

An HSE inspector  said: “This incident could have ended in tragedy and clearly demonstrates the need for local authorities to provide clear and up-to-date training, guidance and information for schools where they are the employer, so that schools can safely manage their swimming pools.

“It also demonstrates that local authorities have a duty to ensure that where issues haven been identified with schools not following guidance, remedial steps are taken to rectify these failings.”

Essex County Council appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on 14 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine, the council was ordered to pay £10,110 in costs.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Essex County Council is deeply sorry and regretful for the incident. We acknowledge that, at the time, our swimming-pool health and safety procedures were not suitably robust.

“Since the incident, we have rigorously examined our procedures and policies and have actively worked with the HSE to improve these. We have developed a corporate health and safety strategy.

“In addition, we have established a structured health and safety training plan available to all our staff, including teachers, and have developed a comprehensive swimming-pool policy, which incorporates suitable and sufficient risk assessments, training, and operational and emergency arrangements.”