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School fined $420,000 over student’s death

A teenage boy drowned when students went fishing on a steep and slippery outcrop.

A teenage boy drowned when students went fishing on a steep and slippery outcrop. Photo: AAP

An Adelaide teenager who drowned on a school excursion was not given a life jacket before going fishing on a rocky outcrop that was steep, slippery and covered in black algae, a tribunal has ruled.

Ahmad Alfarhan, a student from Pinnacle College, either fell or jumped into the water to help some fellow students at Browns Beach, on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, in March 2021.

The 16-year-old’s body was recovered the following day.

The operators of the school pleaded guilty under work health and safety rules to failing to ensure the safety of the students on the two-day camp.

In a judgment published by the South Australian Employment Tribunal this week, deputy president Miles Crawley said when the school group arrived at the national park, almost the first thing the students did was gather their fishing rods and go out onto a rocky outcrop.

“Whilst there, one of the students lost his balance, slipped and fell into the sea,” he said.

“Ahmad and another student either slipped or jumped into the sea in an effort to rescue him. 

“Two of the boys were able to self-rescue. Ahmad was lost.”

Judge Crawley said Ahmad and his fellow students were not provided with life jackets and non-slip shoes were not considered necessary.

“They had no ropes and instead attempted to rescue the students by tying their jackets together to form a rope and by using the fishing rods,” he said.

The judge said the offending involved was serious and the risk of injury or death was real. 

He said the college had failed to identify the hazards and risks that rock fishing in that location presented to the students. Rock fishing was not included in a risk assessment.

“There could easily have been a triple fatality,” Judge Crawley said.

“Even at it was, the victims of this tragedy extend to Ahmad’s family, his classmates, the whole school, and the school community.”

The judged imposed a $420,000 fine, discounted from $700,000 because of the early guilty plea.

He also accepted the school’s “real and deep” contrition and that it had undertaken a substantial review of its policies and procedures which had created a new and very much improved excursion policy.

-AAP

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