Essex County Council fined over fall at rock-climbing centre

Thu 18 Jun 2015
posted by Total Access

Essex County Council has been fined after a novice climber plunged seven and a half metres from an indoor rock face at a climbing centre in Harlow.

The 15 year-old girl, from Ware was taking part in her fifth climbing club session at the Harlow Centre for Outdoor Learning on 8 March, 2014 when the incident took place.

She was climbing on the indoor climbing wall whist being belayed by an eight year-old, who had only attended three previous climbing club sessions.

On the day of the incident the eight year-old was using a certain belay device, for the first time.

The climber lost her footing on the wall, but her younger belayer was unable to control her fall. She plummeted 7.5 metres onto the floor below.

She suffered bruised internal organs, back and neck, as well as deep muscle tissue damage. She continues to suffer on-going pain from her injuries, and continues to need physiotherapy.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the instructor was not competent to run this type of progressive climbing club session, as she did not have the required climbing training and site-specific assessment.

Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard the instructor allowed the belaying to take place without use of an additional back-up belayer and without direct supervision from the instructor.

There had been no use of a ground anchor or sand bag to counter the significant weight difference between the climber and belayer, and no application of safety knots to prevent the climber from falling to the ground.

Essex County Council, operating as Essex Outdoors, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,599 in costs, and a victim surcharge of £120 for breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

Outside the court, HSE Inspector Glyn Davies, said: “These young, inexperienced climbers receiving climbing instruction during their weekend climbing club sessions were a very vulnerable group, completely reliant for their safety on the competence of their climbing instructor, and the adequacy of the centre’s safety management system.”

“Climbing activity sessions should be an enjoyable and challenging experience for young people, but activity providers must ensure their activity sessions remain safe as far as is reasonably practicable.”

“In this unfortunate case these vulnerable young climbers were let down by Essex County Council in that the competence level of the instructor selected to supervise on the day was completely inadequate to safely run this type of progressive climbing club session.”

“In HSE’s opinion it was foreseeable that an accident of this type could occur. The resulting injury from such a 7.5m fall could have been much worse.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at



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