School fined $420,000 following tragic death of student

July 24, 2023

A private college in Adelaide has been fined $420,000 after one of its students drowned during a school excursion.

A SafeWork SA investigation found that Pinnacle College breached their work health and safety duty by failing to provide safe extra-curricular activities for their students.

In March 2021, a 16-year-old student of Pinnacle College drowned while rock fishing on a school excursion, after he jumped into the sea to rescue another student who had lost his balance and fallen off the rocks.

Considered one of Australia’s most dangerous sports, rock fishing accounts for 4% of all drowning deaths in Australia.

The investigation found the students of Pinnacle College were not provided with life jackets and non-slip shoes were not considered necessary for the excursion.

Teachers supervising students during the excursion did not have any work health or safety training even though the school had identified rock fishing was a risk identified on the excursion permission slip.

In sentencing, His Honour Deputy President Judge Crawley noted that the risk of serious injury or death should have been obvious to the school.

SafeWork SA found that Pinnacle College breached the duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (WHS Act) and were charged with:

  • Failure to comply with their work health and safety duty so that the health and safety of students was not put at risk from the work carried out as part of the business.
  • Failure to provide and maintain, as far as was reasonably practicable, a safe system of work for the provision of extra-curricular services, because it failed to perform an adequate hazard identification and risk assessment process specific to the excursion and then ensure that measures were put in place to eliminate and/or minimise the identified risks.

Pinnacle College pleaded guilty in the South Australian Employments Tribunal (SAET) for breaches of the WHS Act.

The school has since reviewed their excursion policy and employed a work health and safety compliance officer.

The SAET convicted Pinnacle College and imposed an initial fine of $700,000, reduced to $420,000 following a 40% discount for early guilty plea.

Further payments of $2,163 for informant’s costs and a victims of crime levy in the sum of $405 were also ordered.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell said that the death of this young boy was a tragic and unnecessary loss of life that will continue to have a significant effect on the boy’s family and friends, the Pinnacle school community, and the community at large: “Students are vulnerable as they are still developing and learning to assess risks around them and protect themselves.

“It is the responsibility of schools to adequately assess risks and minimise students’ exposure to those risks by having robust controls in place. This may include prohibiting unsafe activities or environments where those activities may be undertaken, or considering safer alternatives where students can still enjoy recreational learning experiences.”

This is valid as of 24th July 2023.

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