School fined after student drowning

Monday, 31 July, 2023

School fined after student drowning

The drowning death of a student on a school excursion has led to a $420,000 fine for a private college in Adelaide.

A 16-year-old student at Pinnacle College drowned while rock fishing on a school excursion in March 2021, after he jumped into the sea to rescue another student who had lost his balance and fallen off the rocks.

According to a SafeWork SA investigation, Pinnacle College breached its work health and safety duty by failing to provide safe extra-curricular activities for its students. The investigation also found the students were not provided with life jackets, and non-slip shoes were not considered necessary for the excursion.

In addition, teachers supervising students during the excursion did not have any work health or safety training even though the school had identified rock fishing was a risk identified on the excursion permission slip.

Considered one of Australia’s most dangerous sports, rock fishing accounts for 4% of all drowning deaths in Australia.

In sentencing, His Honour Deputy President Judge Crawley noted that the risk of serious injury or death should have been obvious to the school.

SafeWork SA found that Pinnacle College breached the duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (WHS Act) and were charged with:

  • failure to comply with their work health and safety duty so that the health and safety of students was not put at risk from the work carried out as part of the business;
  • failure to provide and maintain, as far as was reasonably practicable, a safe system of work for the provision of extra-curricular services, because it failed to perform an adequate hazard identification and risk assessment process specific to the excursion and then ensure that measures were put in place to eliminate and/or minimise the identified risks.

Pinnacle College pleaded guilty in the South Australian Employments Tribunal (SAET) for breaches of the WHS Act.

The school has since reviewed its excursion policy and employed a work health and safety compliance officer.

“Students are vulnerable as they are still developing and learning to assess risks around them and protect themselves. It is the responsibilities of schools to adequately assess risks and minimise students’ exposure to those risks by having robust controls in place. This may include prohibiting unsafe activities or environments where those activities may be undertaken, or considering safer alternatives where students can still enjoy recreational learning experiences,” said Glenn Farrell, Executive Director, SafeWork SA.

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