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December 9, 2009

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Overloaded scaffold was “an accident waiting to happen”

One man died and two more were seriously injured following a scaffolding collapse at a hotel construction site.

Huntingdon Crown Court heard that two ten-storey hotels were being constructed at Witton Gate in Milton Keynes. The three men were working on the Jury’s Inn hotel at the site, when the incident took place on 11 April 2006.

John Robinson and his son Mark were standing on the west elevation of a 40-metre-high scaffold, and were installing large cladding tiles on to the outside of the building so that signs could be attached to them. Each tile weighed 20kg and around 150 tiles were stacked on the scaffold.

Another sub-contractor, Ivan Penkov, was working on the north side of the elevation and was installing brackets on to the side of the hotel, which would be used to attach exterior lights.  

At this point, the scaffold suddenly collapsed and all three men fell to the ground, where they laid trapped underneath the rubble until rescue workers were able to free them. John Robinson was taken to hospital suffering from serious injuries to his left leg. Three days later he died from a pulmonary embolism, as a result of the damage to his leg.

In the fall, Mark Robinson suffered a punctured lung, broken vertebrae and ribs, and significant cuts and bruising, and was unable to return to work for several months. Mr Penkov struck a horizontal scaffold tube during the fall and sustained serious fractures to both his legs and one of his arms. He spent more than a month in hospital.

The HSE had visited the site in August 2005, during the early stages of the project, and raised a concern that the size of the management team and the number of workers on the site were insufficient. It also informed the principal contractor, McAleer & Rushe Ltd, that the scaffolding had not been properly inspected.
Following the incident, the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against the scaffolding and demanded that the scaffold was not touched until it had completed an inspection of the site. The investigation revealed the reason for the scaffold collapse was that it was overloaded. HSE Principal Inspector Stephen Hartley said: “John Robinson lost his life in this incident and two others have had their lives changed forever as a result. It’s a wonder that more people weren’t hurt.
“It is totally unacceptable for companies to disregard the safety of their workers. If the scaffolding had been designed, erected, and managed properly, this incident would never have happened.”
McAleer & Rushe Ltd appeared in court on 23 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £42,000.
The cladder on the site, Lee Smith Carpentry, was present at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching: reg.3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999; reg.4 and reg.12(1)of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, for not  adequately planning work at height and failing to inspect the scaffold; and reg.4 of the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996, for failing to ensure that the scaffolding was stable. It was fined a total of £36,000 and ordered to pay £28,000 in costs.

In mitigation, McAleer & Rushe said it had no previous convictions and has subsequently carried out a full review of its systems of work. It has employed an additional safety officer and has strengthened its supervision of contractors. It now seeks external advice when drawing up plans for scaffolding.

Lee Smith Carpentry mitigated that it had a previously clean safety record and had entered an early guilty plea. It has also reviewed its method of work and provided staff with risk-awareness training. The firm said it also contracts a third party to carry out safety inspections on scaffolds to ensure that structures are safe.

Charges were also brought against the company that erected the scaffold, NNM Scaffolding Ltd, but the firm went into liquidation in 2008. Judge Nicholas Coleman said that the most culpable party was not in court, and described the incident as a “disaster waiting to happen”.
John Robinson’s widow, Christine Robinson, said: “John was a kind, caring man who lived for his family. My children and I have not come to terms with his death; we don’t understand why it had to happen.
“This incident should never have happened if both companies had ensured the safety of those working for them. Every day I miss John so much — my best friend, my soul mate, and my future.”

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