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Swimming school fined after child, 3, suffers chemical burns during lesson

First Strokes Swim Schools Ltd operates a purpose-built teaching pool in Stanway

Date issued: 20 September 2019

A three-year-old child suffered severe burns after sitting in a puddle of corrosive cleaning fluid while learning to swim, a court has been told.

First Strokes Swim Schools Ltd, which operates a purpose-built teaching pool in Stanway, Colchester, today (20 September 2019) pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court to breaching three health and safety offences under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as a failure to comply with two improvement notices, following the poolside incident on 22 May 2018.

District Judge Woollard heard how the company failed to properly assess the pool water treatment and cleaning chemicals used at the site and failed to supervise the work of contractors.

The case was brought by Colchester Borough Council, following an investigation by its health and safety officers.

The court was told how the child had been attending a swimming class at First Strokes and was sat by the side of the pool waiting for her lesson to start, when she began to complain her leg was hurting. She was taken to Colchester General Hospital by her mother, where medics confirmed she had first- and second-degree burns. The mother also reported pink bleach marks on her clothing where she had carried her daughter.

First Strokes admitted a contractor had undertaken maintenance work earlier in the day using the company’s own supply of Sodium Hypochlorite to hand-dose the pool water – tipping an unknown quantity from a 20-litre container into each end of the pool. It was alleged a small amount of the chemical had spilt onto the side of the pool where the child later sat.

On 17 July 2018, council officers served First Strokes Swim Schools Ltd two improvement notices for its lack of COSHH assessments and no safety system for hand-dosing the pool with water treatment chemicals.

Although the company later provided several policy documents, they were received after the expiry of the improvement notices, and neither the COSHH assessments nor the hand dosing procedure submitted were deemed suitable enough by the investigator to demonstrate compliance with the improvement notices.

Councillor Mike Lilley, Portfolio Holder for Communities, Wellbeing and Public Safety, said: “Health and safety regulations exist for good reason, and businesses and employers have a responsibility to protect their staff and customers' safety and welfare. 

“As a result of failures to implement simple procedures to protect the public from exposure to hazardous substances, a vulnerable child was harmed.

“The public should be reassured that we take a very dim view of any business that fails to put health and safety first and whose actions lead to personal injury. We will always investigate any breaches of health and safety regulations reported to us and where they meet the required legal threshold, those found to be breaking the law will be prosecuted.”

Judge Woollard fined the company £10,500 and ordered it to pay Colchester Borough Council £2,350 costs and a £170 victim surcharge – to be paid in four monthly instalments.

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