$110,000 fine issued over student high wire injury

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An adventure park operator has been convicted and fined a total of $110,000 for failing to ensure the safety of school students visiting a camp at Trafalgar in Victoria.

The Summit was sentenced in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was fined $100,000 for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks and an aggregate $10,000 for two charges of failing to notify WorkSafe immediately after an incident. It was also ordered to pay $10,591 in costs.

In February 2020, a school student was participating in a high wire activity 10-12 metres off the ground when her helmet strap became entangled with the wire, effectively strangling her.

The student couldn’t breathe and began kicking her legs whilst foaming at the mouth, ultimately losing consciousness.

When a facilitator for the activity did not receive a response to an emergency radio request, a teacher from the school climbed up without safety equipment to free the student and help her return to the ground.

The student spent a night in hospital and although she has made a full physical recovery, she has been diagnosed with PTSD and requires ongoing counselling and treatment.

WorkSafe Victoria was not notified of the incident and only became aware following an anonymous report three days later.

During a subsequent site visit, WorkSafe inspectors were informed of a separate incident that had occurred on the same day, resulting in a student falling and sustaining a fractured ankle which required corrective surgery.

An investigation found The Summit’s rescue protocol for any emergency at height was for a responder from the management team to attend the activity, don a harness, climb up the apparatus using equipment brought by a second responder and then attend to the participant.

The court heard an expert found the protocol was inadequate as waiting for rescuers and equipment that were not close to the activity prolonged the rescue operations, exposing those involved to further risks to their health and safety, including death.

“Every employer should have a plan in place to let workers and visitors know what to do when things go wrong, but it is absolutely critical in workplaces that engage in high-risk activity,” said WorkSafe Victoria executive director of health and safety, Narelle Beer.

“Emergency plans should be reviewed and, if necessary, revised on a regular basis to ensure they remain effective.”