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March 17, 2011

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Christmas lights collapse costs construction company

A Christmas decoration weighing 50kg that had been suspended across a high street crashed to the ground, injuring two members of the public and narrowly missing a baby, Huntingdon Magistrates’ Court has heard.

Sitting on 9 March, the magistrates fined Buckinghamshire firm Broadland (Builders) Ltd £12,000 and ordered it to pay £4250 in full costs, after it pleaded guilty to a breach of section 3(1) of the HSWA 1974.

The magistrates heard that the decoration had been attached via an anchoring bolt fixed into an unsafe part of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society building in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire, on 29 November 2007. Broadland had been sub-contracted to install anchor bolts to secure festive decorations at several locations within St. Neots town centre.

In all, more than 150kg of masonry and fixings collapsed in the incident. A passing car was hit by the masonry and a metal frame, while Elena Giddens, then 39, was knocked unconscious by falling masonry. She needed five stitches to her head and suffered three broken ribs and a punctured lung. Anne Beck, then 35, dived on top of a pram to protect her seven-month-old son, sustaining three broken fingers and bruising to her arm, hand and back.

Paul Hoskins, the HSE inspector who prosecuted the case, told SHP the investigation had been protracted and complicated, as there were multiple duty-holders involved. “At the end of the day it came down to a failure of Broadland because they put an anchoring eye bolt in the wrong place,” he said. “Guidance is available from relevant trade associations, and the eye bolt should have been positioned away from the edge and the top of the building.

“One of the wires had already pulled a brick out of the wall, so they should have realised the mortar was weak and there were structural issues. In addition, a building survey that may have identified the poor choice of fixing location had not been carried out.”

In mitigation, Broadland said it had cooperated fully with the investigation and had a good safety record. It has subsequently become a member of the Construction Fixings Association and given its staff further training.

Said inspector Hoskins: “We are happy to accept this was a one-off but, nevertheless, it was a serious failure that should not have happened. Contractors should ensure they are competent to carry out the work for which they have been contracted, and that they have access to relevant, up-to-date information and guidance.”

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