$13,000 fine for WA approved provider who failed to make a tree stump safe

by Freya Lucas

August 29

An approved provider in Western Australia was found to have contravened section 167(1) of the National Law in a recently settled incident, which took place on 11 February this year, with the tribunal ordering the payment of $13,000 for the breach, as well as a $2,000 contribution to the Department’s legal costs. 


The breach occurred when the approved provider was found to have failed to ensure that every reasonable precaution was taken to protect children being educated and cared for by the service from harm and from any hazard likely to cause injury. 


The tribunal tasked with hearing the case heard allegations from the WA Department of Communities that there was proper cause for disciplinary action under section 188AB of the Schedule to the Education and Care Services National Law (WA) Act 2012 (National Law).


The relevant facts agreed to by both parties in relation to the hearing note that the incident occurred on the grounds of an independent school, on which the approved provider had service approval to operate an education and care service. 


The incident occurred when a ten year old child climbed onto a tree stump in the playground of the school. When asked to get down, the child did so, slipping and catching her leg on the sharp edge of the stump, causing a gash below her knee. 


She received first aid, before being taken to hospital, where the wound was treated with stitches. The child required a brace to keep her leg straight, and used a wheelchair for two weeks. 


The tree stump had always been within the playground. Renovations to the playground space had exposed the stump by the removal of surrounding shrubs, making it more visible and accessible to the children. In the past, pallets or crates had been used over the stump as a table or seat, but these had been removed. 


The incident occurred on the first day of the playground being available for use by the approved provider, post renovations. The approved provider was aware of the renovations, and representatives had attended an induction with the school and the renovation company, however the induction did not include an inspection of the smaller playground area where the stump was located. 


Prior to allowing the children access to the newly renovated space, the approved provider walked through the playground but did not consider the stump to pose a risk. The Department disagreed, saying the stump, once exposed and accessible to children, was a hazard likely to cause injury. 


The failure to ensure that every reasonable precaution was taken to protect children being educated and cared for by the service from harm and from any hazard likely to cause injury occurred when the approved provider failed to insist on the removal of the stump,fence it off, or cover it as it had previously been covered.


The approved provider has taken the following measures in response to the incident: 


  • Risk assessment procedure has been amended to include a check for hazards by all staff members each day, both in the morning and in the afternoon;


  • implemented safety audits of the physical environment at least once a month or when changes occur;


  • placed more emphasis on discussing rules and limits with children and creating posters with them so the children are more aware of the rules;


  • trialling the use of walkie talkies in the playground;


  • required educators to attend additional training  (a 2 hour workshop entitled Work Health and Safety in Education and Care Settings through Child Australia);


  • added an excursion during the school holidays to Kids Safe to help the children understand being safe in various playgrounds.


Full details of the orders can be accessed here.