Military Training Accidents: How and When Do These Arise?

November 5, 2020
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Posted by: Amira Dabbous


We hear the phrase often enough ‘accidents happen’ but it brings with it a number of questions, particularly in the Armed Forces and especially when numerous guidelines and protocols have been implemented and seemingly followed.

This blog aims to look at the types of training accidents which occur in the Armed Forces.

My colleague has written a blog explaining why Service Personnel need specific training and what you should do if you have an accident whilst serving.

The figures

In 2019, the government released a publication which found that 147 deaths occurred whilst service personnel were on training or exercise.  These statistics are from the years 2000 to 2019.  Of the 147 deaths, 126 were regular personnel and 21 were reserve personnel.  It is devastating to see that training related accidents occur as often as they do and that 147 of the deaths during this period were not war related.  This is an increase from the statistics provided by the MoD in 2018, when the number was 141.

What type of training do service personnel undergo?

Training which service personnel undertake in the Army, Navy and RAF can be categorised as follows:

  • Aircraft
  • Land transport
  • Climbing/caving/mountaineering
  • Diving
  • Parachuting/paragliding
  • Live firing

Types of training and relative examples

Now let’s take a deeper look at the types of accidents which occur within the categories mentioned above:

  • Aircraft

The use of the aircraft during training can be used for example to create relief scenarios or flight simulations.

A lack of training can lead to unawareness of the flying condition of the aircraft or handling of an aircraft.  Accidents can occur when one of the following happens; the aircraft sustains substantial damage, direct contact with the airplane or object, direct exposure to jet blast, the airplane goes missing or is completely inaccessible.

One of the worst years for the Military occurred in 2004.  During a British Military exercise also known as Flying Rhino, a Lynx helicopter crashed in the Czech Republic and sadly, all six soldiers on board the plane died.

  • Land transport

Training on various forms of land transport used in the Military is important and can include learning about management, control and use of all MoD vehicles.  This can include cars, LGV’s, armoured vehicles and plant equipment.  The types of accidents likely to be seen in this area might occur whilst the vehicle is being operated or if you are a pedestrian involved in an accident with one of these vehicles.  In this area, injury or death can occur due to lack of training, inadequate rest, inadequate experience and ill-managed vehicles, all of which can result in road traffic accidents.

In 2003, Lance Corporal Shaun Briarley whilst serving in the Army sadly died in a Land Rover crash in Kuwait when he did not see a large lump of tarmac in the road because infrared equipment intended to deter friendly fire had been fitted over one headlight.

  • Climbing/caving/mountaineering

Service personnel complete this form of training to ensure exposure to mountainous terrain to test their fitness, their ability to cope with new environments and also to test their skills of orienteering.  Climbing training is specifically designed to ensure that individuals are used to performing certain tasks in all weather conditions, during both the summer and winter months.  Service Personnel also train in rescue and incident support in caves.

Mountaineering can take place in both the summer and winter with the aim of demonstrating mountaineering knowledge, implementing emergency procedures and acquiring mountaineering skills.  Accidents in this area of training can be more likely when an individual becomes subject to extreme weather conditions, which may result in a number of issues, including but not limited to; dehydration, getting lost, falls or slips, sustaining an injury, suffering a cardiac event (such as a heart attack) and/or experiencing altitude sickness.

In hotter conditions, individuals may suffer from heat stroke or hyperthermia, especially if they are required to undertake strenuous physical activities.  In colder or wetter conditions the body can suffer from hypothermia and/or the individual may suffer a Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI).

In 2013, three SAS reservists died as a result of neglect on a 16 mile march on a very hot day.  The Army accepted that they did not carefully manage the risks involved in the exercise.  An apology was issued by Brigadier John Donnelly who reassured others that changes would be made to future training exercises to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future.

  • Diving

Some Military Personnel undertake diving courses to gain qualifications which they can use as part of their service.  These can take place in open water or in a swimming pool.  To participate in sub aqua diving, an individual must have an in-date medical certificate.  Snorkelling accidents can occur during adventurous training.

Accidents during diving training may occur for a number of reasons, including failure to complete a risk assessment, lack of supervision, an inadequate dive briefing or inadequate dive planning.  They can also occur as a result of a lack of awareness of how to act in an emergency situation.  As a result, the types of accidents which occur may involve drowning, the bends, hypothermia or compression injuries.

In 2018, Army Lance Corporal George Partridge died during a tragic diving accident during the final week of his training course.

  • Parachuting/Paragliding

To participate in parachuting an individual must have an in-date medical certificate.  The level of training required depends on the level an individual wants to reach.  Accidents can occur due to a lack of training, the jump being carried out at the wrong time of the day, parachute malfunction, combat loads, air temperature and problems with the drop zone terrain and/or high wind speeds.

In 2019 an Army ranger who was referred to as a seasoned member of the elite Army unit, died after he exited an aircraft and suffered a parachute malfunction.

  • Live firing

Live firing training can take place on a shooting range or in an exercise field, on one or more small arms, including handguns, shotguns, rifles and machine guns.  The purpose of training in this area is to ensure safe conduct of firing practices, safe handling of weapons and to increase an individual’s experience.  The types of accidents which can occur include noise induced hearing loss, and injury or death due to contact with live rounds or dummy bullets.  Hearing loss can occur as a result of an individual not being provided with the correct form of ear protection.

In 2016 a young soldier was shot dead by a comrade when he was mistaken for a target during a night time training exercise.

As outlined above, training accidents can take place in a number of different ways.  We also see that unfortunate and avoidable incidents occur when training accidents are poorly managed or risks are not carefully assessed.  A detailed risk assessment should be carried out as to the health and safety implications of all training exercises, in particular those which involve more complex training.

There are also other, more general injuries which can be sustained as a result of accidents during training which include:

  • Injuries due to faulty or unsafe equipment
  • Wrong or inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Unsafe working practices (i.e. not properly risk assessed)
  • Lack of training
  • Being medically unfit as well as incorrect restrictions to the level of downgrade to the service personnel member

Training accidents are sadly on the increase year by year and many of the accidents which happen could be avoided.  If you have suffered an accident whilst training as part of your Military Service, please contact Bolt Burdon Kemp for free and confidential advice regarding your options for a claim.

Amira Dabbous is a paralegal in Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Military Claims Team.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Amira free of charge and in confidence on 020 3973 5033 or at  amiradabbous@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Military team will contact you.  Find out more about the Military Claims team.

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Posted by: Amira Dabbous

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