Platform collapse sends workers plunging down lift shaft06 August 2012
Three companies have been ordered to pay a total of £232,000 in fines and costs between them after two workers fell four storeys down a lift shaft.
Exeter Crown Court heard the incident took place during the construction of new student accommodation for Exeter University at a site in New North Road, on 27 February 2008.
Cowlin Construction Ltd was the principal contractor for the development, Prestoplan Ltd provided timber frames for buildings, and Somerset Carpenters Ltd supplied labour at the site.
On 12 February 2008, an HSE inspector visited the site and saw two carpenters working on a roof without anything in place to prevent them falling through the top of a lift shaft down one level to the floor below. A Prohibition Notice was issued to Somerset Carpenters, ordering work to stop until suitable protection was put in place. A wooden platform was subsequently erected over two lift shafts at the site.
Two weeks later Ricki Slocombe, 35, and Matthew Blackmore, 29, were standing on top of one of the platforms to access part of the roof, when the platform gave way. They fell four storeys down the shaft and landed on the ground floor. Mr Blackmore suffered a broken back and was unable to return to work for 18 months. Mr Slocombe suffered two broken legs and had to use a wheelchair for several months. He has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.
The HSE’s investigation found the platform wasn’t properly supported, as there was no timber ring beam at the top of the shaft. HSE inspector Simon Chilcott told SHP that an engineer should have assessed the design of the platform to ensure it had adequate supports.
He also revealed that a similar platform collapsed during the construction of student accommodation in Bangor, North Wales on 7 February 2008. Cowlin Construction managed the site and Prestoplan Ltd was also working on the project. One worker suffered minor injuries during the incident.
All three companies appeared in court on 3 August and each pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. Cowlin Construction was fined £85,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 towards costs. Prestoplan received a fine of £50,000, plus £20,000 in costs, and Somerset Carpenters was fined £35,000 and £22,000 in costs.
In mitigation, each firm said it had cooperated with the investigation and entered an early guilty plea. Following the incident, scaffolding was erected through the lift shaft.
Speaking after the hearing, inspector Chilcott said: “This was a terrifying incident for the two men, which could easily have led to their deaths.
“Contractors and employers must make sure they have taken all reasonable measures to provide a safe environment for workers to work in and that any temporary structures are secure.”
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