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Teenager set on fire while on school excursion

A teenage girl has been left with permanent scarring after she was engulfed in a fireball while using a cooking stove during a school camp trip. Southwark Crown Court heard that she was one of 25 girls on a three-day Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award camping trip, when the incident occurred.

An expedition leader from Newham Borough Council was in charge of the group, assisted by two teachers and a school administrator.  The party was sitting in groups of three and four around several stoves, while food was being prepared for the evening meal. One of the girls wanted to cook some more food but thought the stove was going out, so she picked up a five litre container of methylated spirits and poured some on to the stove.

There was an instant flashover, with flames setting fire to one of the other girl’s clothes and headscarf. The expedition leader ran to the burning teenager and rolled her back and forth on the ground, while shouting for others to bring water and call the emergency services. The girl, suffered severe burns to her hands, arms, face, neck and legs and has since undergone a skin graft but is left with permanent scarring.

The HSE investigated the incident and found that some simple and yet common sense safety measures had not been taken. Newham Borough Council conceded in court that the risk assessment it had carried out in relation to the filling of the cooking stoves was not adequate. The Council pleaded guilty to a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £17,246 in costs.

The HSE Inspector who investigated the case stated “A five-litre container of methylated spirits should never have been used to fill a camping stove.”  “Any fuel needed for the trip should have been taken in containers incorporating a safety cut-off valve and kept away from ignition sources. There should also have been a better procedure to follow when filling, or refilling the stove.”

He suggested a safer method would have been to take the stoves to the fuel rather than the other way around, as this would mean the stoves were cold. Alternatively, replacement burners could have been used to avoid refilling ones that had already been lit.  An expert witness for the HSE also suggested that the use of extinguisher caps would have been a reliable method of removing the oxygen supply and ensuring that the burner was extinguished.

A spokesperson for the Council said: “We take our obligations towards health and safety very seriously and this is the first time that we have been prosecuted in relation to an incident involving a student participating in such an activity.”

“We have taken immediate preventative action to ensure this type of incident should not happen again. Risk assessments have been thoroughly revised and we will not be using spirit stoves at any of our Duke of Edinburgh Award-scheme expeditions, or any other activities. Award-scheme expedition procedures and methods have been examined and revised where necessary.”

For advice and guidance on the suitability or sufficiency of your risk assessments, or for details of our risk assessment training courses available, please contact Kelly Halls on 0800 542 7550 or by email at [email protected]

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