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Supplier Responsible for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning of 12 Schoolchildren Fined

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High-pressure compressors require proper filtration systems to prevent gas contamination (Photo: Shutterstock)

The provider of carbon monoxide-contaminated air that poisoned 12 school children during a scuba diving training event in 2017 has been spared jail following an investigation by the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Aqua Logistics Limited, which provided the air to the scuba diving operator conducting the training programmes, was found guilty of breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Shearn and his company were fined £9,300 and ordered to pay £11,000 costs. 

The ruling comes after an investigation into the events of 26 June 2017, when 12 children from Manchester Grammar School were taken ill during a scuba diving training session conducted by local training centre YU Diving, which was cleared of responsibility during the investigation. The children were all taken to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Two boys had to be pulled from the water following the incident. One 14-year-old boy was put into an induced coma and the other was said to be in a serious condition.

All the children have since recovered, although one of the boys told the tribunal that he has suffered recurrent headaches since the incident.

The investigation by the HSE and Greater Manchester Police found that the dive training staff had obtained air fills supplied by Aqua Logistics Limited. The investigation determined that Shearn had not correctly installed and maintained the compressor. A fire in the filtration system resulted in the tanks being filled with contaminated air which was subsequently supplied to YU Diving. A CO sensor that would have shut down the compressor in such an event was found to be not working at the time.

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Manchester Grammar School (Google Maps)

Geoffrey Gordon Shearn, the sole director of Aqua Logistics, pleaded guilty to breaching section 37 of the Health & Safety at Work Act. He was given a 12-month community order with a requirement for 100 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £5,000 costs. 

The compressor that contaminated the air fills. had been used without problems for two years prior to the incident. Andrew McGhee, acting on behalf of Aqua Logistics said that 'there was no evidence any "obvious industry standard" had been neglected' by Aqua Logistics, which he described as a 'hugely conscientious company'. McGhee added that Shearn was 'a man of good character and an upstanding professional in his field' who was 'absolutely shaken and taken aback' and had expressed 'genuine and deep remorse' following the incident.

District Judge Mark Hadfield described the contamination of the compressor as being of 'the utmost seriousness', but 'very much an isolated incident from an unknown cause,' adding: 'This was an extremely unique event brought about by a combination of factors as yet unexplained. It was not foreseeable and no risk was run, or recklessly run.'

Speaking after the hearing, HSE specialist diving inspector Richard Martins said: 'This case highlights the importance of ensuring that compressed breathing air sold to the public is safe. The quality of the air supplied is essential to the preservation of life.

'Suppliers of breathing air to the diving community and public should ensure that they use correctly installed and maintained equipment accompanied by regular testing of the air supplied. Further tragedy was narrowly averted through the quick response of the school staff, diving instructors, and the Manchester emergency services.'

 

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