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June 19, 2014

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Worker left paralysed from the neck down after fall, court hears

The Health and Safety Executive has said how easily a fall could have been avoided after a 34-year-old fell from the top of a gritter, leaving him paralysed from the neck down.

Colin Shields, 34, from Cumbernauld, nr Glasgow, was standing on top of a gritter at Inex Works Ltd’s premises in a bid to help his colleagues dislodge compacted grit salt from inside the machine when the incident happened on 28 December 2010.

Airdrie Sheriff Court heard last week (10 June) that Mr Shields, company secretary for the firm at the date of the incident, suffered irreversible damage to his spine as a result of the fall. He is now paralysed from the neck down, and requires help and assistance with his day to day care.

A married man with two young daughters, one of whom was born four weeks after the incident, he had been a fit and active individual who enjoyed playing a number of sports and also played guitar in a band.

Following the incident, an investigation by HSE revealed a number of significant failures in the company’s management of health and safety, including:

  • failure to take sufficient measures to prevent falls where work was being carried out at height;
  • unsafe use of the gritter, which was not designed with a working platform, walkway or handrails;
  • lack of harness or restraint to prevent Mr Sheilds from falling; and
  • failure to take suitable precautions or using alternative means of access, such as erecting tower scaffolding to work from.

At the time of the incident the company operated from a yard in Garrell Road, Burnside Industrial Estate, Kilsyth. When Mr Shields returned to the yard following a gritting job in Blackford, Perthshire, he saw three of his colleagues clearing grit salt from the chute, spreader and gritter box on the gritter vehicle and offered to assist.

Mr Shields climbed the ladder at the back of the vehicle to gain access to the top of the gritter body. As he moved towards the rear of the vehicle to get a pole to help him dislodge the salt, his foot slipped and he fell headfirst onto the ground.

His fellow workers raised the alarm and he was rushed to hospital but was found to have sustained several fractures of his spine, leaving him paralysed. He remained in hospital until July 2011 and later had surgery to his right arm that has provided him with some limited movement.

Inex Works Ltd, of St Vincent Street, Glasgow, was fined £13,500 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Following the case, HSE inspector Hazel Dobb, said: “Mr Shields could have easily been killed. As it is, he has been left with irreversible injuries and he and his family have obviously been devastated.

“Inex Works Ltd failed to make sure employees were able to work in safety. This incident could have easily been avoided as there were several other ways this work could have been carried out, such as using alternative means of access or use of a harness.

“Tragically, that is a lesson for the company learned too late for Mr Shields.”

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