News & Views

Tragic nursery death shines spotlight on H&S procedures

BY Steve Ashton
Health & Safety
BG Orange

All accidents are tragic, but when the accident involves the death of a young child, it seems doubly so.  The impact of three-year-old Lydia Bishop’s death on her family, and especially on her mother, can barely be imagined. 

Lydia died of suffocation when she became entangled in a rope attached to a garden slide at a nursery.  It was her first day at the nursery. 

The nursery, which was owned and operated by York City College, closed immediately after the accident and it seems unlikely it will ever open again. The College was prosecuted and found guilty of Health and Safety offences for failing to manage or enforce “reasonably adequate procedures”.  The procedures at the nursery recognised the risk of entanglement in the rope and control measures included that it be removed after every day of use.  But it wasn’t removed every day.  It was left in place for months.  

The key is that it isn’t good enough just to have decent procedures; businesses need to ensure the standards set are understood and followed by staff. Equally key is that monitoring is done to ensure that standards are being followed. In court, it was suggested that the College Health and Safety Officer never visited the nursery except in response to complaints. It was alleged that the college Principal never inspected it either, despite procedures in place which should have ensured that senior team did inspect all areas. Ultimately, the college was fined £175,000 with costs of £45,000. 

Perhaps more tragic even than the death of the child, for some at least, was the prosecution of one of the nursery workers for Gross Negligence Manslaughter.  A young mother of a five year old child herself, she must have felt awful when she discovered the strangled child.  But she probably felt worse when she then faced the nightmare of a trial. Sophee Redhead was found not guilty of the charge of Gross Negligence Manslaughter and of an associated Health and Safety charge.  She may have to live a lifetime with the personal anguish of discovering the victim of the incident, and she had to live through months of fear and anxiety whilst the case against her was brought to court and heard, but she will not now have to live with the stigma that a guilty verdict would have left.  The jury was unanimous in rejecting the charges against her.  Her advocate accused the college authorities of “hanging her out to dry”. 

Law At Work can help to develop systems and procedures; we can also help in monitoring and improving standards.  We can help to identify specific and systemic issues such as those which led to this tragic incident.  We can help to reduce the chance of your business and employees suffering the same fate as the nursery and nursery attendant. And, hopefully, we can help to reduce the chance of another tragic accident resulting in a premature death.

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