Law report: ‘Inadequate explanation’ caused claimant’s fireman’s pole injury

Judge's gavel

This law report has been contributed by national law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer.

Wilson v GP Haden (T/A Clyne Farm Centre)
Queen's Bench Division, 15 Feb 2013

The claimant, a scout leader, slipped down a fireman’s pole and severely injured his spine. He was the first individual in an estimated 300 000 who had been injured in this way. He sued the defendant for negligence.

The facts were disputed, but the judge found that the supervisor had given minimal instructions as to how to descend the pole, as the supervisor had thought it “obvious”. As a result, the claimant had failed to appreciate the importance of wrapping his legs firmly round the pole.

The defendant had carried out a risk assessment, which had stated that the risk of slipping on the obstacle in question was to be controlled by ensuring that the instructor demonstrated how to negotiate the pole.

The judge accepted it would not have been feasible for instructors to give a physical demonstration of each element of each obstacle, as “to do so would have been laborious and time consuming... and would have reduced participants’ enjoyment of the activity, particularly in cold or wet weather”.

The risk assessment, however, had only provided for the demonstration of the most high-risk obstacles, such as the fireman’s pole, whereas the others only required explanation and supervision. Such a demonstration would have taken “very little additional time”, and the judge was ultimately satisfied that the inadequate explanation of how to use the pole caused the claimant’s accident.

Comment
The lessons learned from this case are clear: when providing activity services to visitors, your real-life procedures must mirror any risk assessments or safe systems of work, even where correct use of equipment may seem “obvious”. Not every activity has to be demonstrated, but it would be prudent to do so for any which are considered high risk.

Alternatively, the safe system for high-risk activities should be explained to participants, and they must undertake not to participate if they do not understand how to do so safely.
Matthew Ford

This article was first published in the 14 March edition of Post magazine.

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