County Council in court after schoolboy severs finger in class

North Yorkshire County Council has been prosecuted after a 14-year-old boy needed a finger amputated after it got tangled in a lathe during a lesson at Knaresborough’s King James’ School.

The pupil, from Knaresborough, was using a polishing cloth by hand on a work piece as it rotated on a manual metal lathe during a design and technology class when the incident happened on 19 November 2013.

The boy’s right hand became entangled around the work piece and severed part of his index finger. There were six other mini lathes in use by pupils in the same class.

He was given first aid before being taken to hospital.  After an unsuccessful operation to reattach the finger, the pupil needed to undergo further surgery to amputate the finger to below the first joint. He has needed several physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and brought the prosecution after finding the Council had failed to identify that the practice of hand-polishing on metal lathes was unsafe despite it being used for years at the 1,700-pupil school.

Leeds Crown Court heard today (13 July) that after the incident, HSE served a prohibition notice on the Council, halting any use of hand-held polishing cloths on the lathes at King James’ school and advising the authority to take action to ensure similar practices were not underway at other schools under its control.

HSE’s investigation found that the Council’s assessment of potential risks of using of the lathes had failed to consider all the tasks undertaken on the machine and so had not identified the unsafe system being used by pupils. As such, pupils were routinely put at risk of injury.

North Yorkshire County Council, of Racecourse Lane, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £28,287 in costs after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kate Dixon said:

“This was a horrifying incident in a classroom that could very simply have been avoided. Sadly, this pupil had to undergo surgery to amputate part of his index finger and, being right-handed, he has found it very difficult to adjust. It has affected both his writing, his ability to play music, and his sports activities.

“North Yorkshire County Council failed to identify the system of work being used for years at the school was not safe. As a result, pupils were at risk and a 14-year0ld boy has suffered an injury that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

“The risk of amputation from using hand-held polishing cloths on metal working lathes is well known and HSE has had a guidance note on this since 1993. Alternative machines or tools can easily be used to carry out polishing of work pieces, significantly reducing the risks of entanglement, a system now in place at the school involved.”

The guidance note from HSE can be accessed on HSE’s website

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 or safety.”
  3. HSE news releases are available at



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