Schoolgirl lost fingers in plaster of Paris

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The Independent Online

A school was ordered to pay £19,000 today after a 16-year-old girl lost most of her fingers when she put her hands in a bucket of plaster of Paris during a school art lesson.

The teenager was attempting to make a sculpture of her own hands during a lesson in January 2007 when the horrific accident happened, Boston Magistrates' Court in Lincolnshire was told.

The plaster set around her hands and neither staff nor paramedics could get it off during the lesson at Giles School, in Boston.

The court was told that temperatures up to 60C can be generated in large quantities of plaster and the girl, who was referred to in court only as student X, suffered terrible burns.

Plastic surgeons did what they could to help her but after a series of 12 operations she was left with no fingers on one hand and just two on the other.

Today the foundation school's governing body admitted breaching health and safety regulations and also failing to report the incident to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The court was told the HSE was never informed by the school about what happened. It only found out six weeks after the incident from the girl's plastic surgeon.

The school was fined a total of £16,500 and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs.

The court heard that the girl was doing a BTec course in art and design and was supposed to be making the cast as part of the sculpture unit.

Jo Anderson, prosecuting for the HSE, said the girl had been told by her teacher to put her hands into clay to make a mould.

She was then supposed to pour the liquid plaster into the clay mould.

Instead she put her hand up to the wrist into the bucket of plaster.

It is understood the mixture began to solidify within about 10 minutes and she soon realised she could not remove her hands.

Miss Anderson said: "The student's hands were literally being burnt as the plaster was setting around them."

Frantic students even used a hammer to try to get the solid plaster off the teenager's hands but neither they nor the emergency services could free her.

The plaster was eventually removed using power tools at Nottingham City Hospital.

Miss Anderson said the girl had been shown the correct way to make a mould but another pupil had immersed his or her hands in plaster in a previous lesson.

The prosecutor was highly critical of the school's health and safety policy.

"It was clear there were no such systems and procedures," she said.

Miss Anderson said guidelines for the use of plaster of Paris clearly state it should be handled using goggles and gloves.

But she added: "There was no way the student could or should have known of the catastrophic consequences."

Miss Anderson said: "The governing body were not meeting the most basic of legal requirements."

She added: "I do not believe this was a terrible accident. It could and should have been avoided if the governing body had monitored health and safety."