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January 21, 2016

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NHS prosecuted after pensioner dies in mobility scooter fall

The NHS Litigation Authority has been sentenced after an 82-year-old man fell 12 feet to his death from an elevated walkway outside a health centre. Following the sentencing the HSE warned businesses that they need to appreciate that there is an increasing use of mobility scooters, especially in pedestrian areas, and to re-assess existing structures and barriers to ensure they are suitable for these machines.

It was heard in court how Benjamin John Withers from Fareham in Hampshire died after the mobility scooter he was driving collided with a wooden weather screen which was situated around the main entrance and access bridge to Fareham Health centre. The collision caused a section to give way and Mr Withers and his mobility scooter fell through the gap onto a walkway below.

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Portsmouth Crown Court heard that on 20th September 2012 Mr Withers left the centre after attending an appointment and accidentally drove his mobility scooter forward into the side of the glazed screen instead of reversing away from it. After the initial impact he then moved forward again and fell through the opening in the screen which had partially given way.

An HSE investigation found that:

  • the barrier had not been constructed to the required standard to resist impact from a mobility scooter;
  • no assessment had been made to consider the suitability of the weather screen;
  • the structure had not been adequately maintained;
  • the collapsed section was so badly decayed that portions of the wood could be easily removed by hand; and
  • planned maintenance work to replace the rotten wood had been cancelled and rescheduled on more than twenty occasions without ever being carried out.

NHS Litigation Authority of Buckingham Palace Road London, pleaded guilty to breaching s.3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £15,000 costs.

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Benjamin John Withers

Speaking after the hearing Mr Wither’s son Trevor spoke on behalf of his family: “This has been a traumatic event for all my family, due to these breaches in health and safety our family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

“My Mother has lost a husband and a major part of her life, this has affected her deeply, she has not been able to visit her local shopping centre or walk past her local surgery where my Dad died. The centre is also close to my brother’s place of work and he has to see it every day.

“My Dad was full of life, I will never forget that sunny day on September 20th 2012 when me and my nephew last saw him going into Fareham Health Centre, I never thought that this would be the last time we would ever see him.”

HSE Inspector Michael Baxter said: “This tragic incident could have easily been avoided if the barrier at Fareham Health Centre had met the well-known and established standards for design and construction of barriers and if the required maintenance had been carried out as soon as it was identified.

“Instead a family has lost a well-loved husband and father. Mobile scooters are being used increasingly, especially in pedestrian areas. Businesses need to appreciate this and ensure existing structures and barriers are re-assessed to ensure they are suitable for these machines.”

The British Standard BS6180:2011 ‘Barriers in and about buildings – code of practice’ can be found here http://www.freestd.us/soft/259378.htm

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