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Corporate trainers hauled over the coals for fire walk incident

A motivational training company has been fined after a fire walking session at London Bridge left a Deloitte employee with burns to her feet.

SI Corporate Development, a company that runs motivational training days, was ordered to pay costs and fines totalling 7,655.41 at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court on 9 January following an investigation by officers from Southwark Council.

The training day for Deloitte and Touche employees, held at London Bridge on 8 March 2004 and run by SI Corporate Development, resulted in burns to the feet of an employee who had to remain off work for fourteen days.

One of the day's exercises was a motivational fire walk which involved walking on hot coal in a car park.

A female employee of Deloitte and Touche completed the fire walk after which she immediately complained of pain to her feet. A blister soon appeared on her foot but when she complained and showed it to the organisers she was told that she had "fire kisses" and would be able to walk on the following day. It eventually became clear that the victim was in considerable discomfort and had to be taken to hospital by a director of SI Corporate Development.

A principal enforcement officer in Southwark Council's food and occupational health and safety Unit conducted the investigation which resulted in SI Corporate Development pleading guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for failing to discharge a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks of the health and safety of a person not in their employment.

The company had done a risk assessment which showed that the walk was built by a qualified fire-walk instructor from soft specially seasoned wood, with the effect that it was no more dangerous than 'walking barefoot on hot sand on the beach'. It also stated that all participants were taught by a qualified instructor and that checks were made for anyone who had foot injuries or skin allergies in the last twelve months. However the assessment failed to take into consideration the pedicure which the victim had a few days before the event.

The investigating officer formed a professional opinion that the defendant company's risk assessment was not suitable and sufficient to determine the critical temperature of the coal which is likely to cause burns as different people have different susceptibility.

The defendant failed to follow safe systems of work prescribed in their procedures which included offering information about skin conditions that would have excluded the victim from fire walking.

The company was fined 3,000 and ordered to pay costs of 4,655.41.

In sentencing the defendant company, the court gave credit to its guilty plea and made two observations addressed to the defendant: that it reviewed information given to individuals to ensure informed consent by the participants, and to expand its medical conditions which may render some activities inappropriate to certain individuals.

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