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April 12, 2011

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£400,000 penalty for firms involved in scaffold death

Two construction companies have been fined £200,000 each for their part in an incident that ended in a worker falling to his death at a site in Glasgow.

Stirling Stone Ltd was contracted as stonemasons to work on the extension of the Glasgow Academy school, by the project’s principal contractor Robertson Construction Central Ltd.

On 26 April 2007, James Kelly, a labourer employed by Stirling Stone, was erecting a stone façade on part of the building. In order to carry out the work, he was positioned on the third level of a scaffold loading tower, which had been erected as part of the construction work. The stone was lifted up to the platform using a telehandler and Mr Kelly needed to remove a guardrail so he could unload the stone.

While he was working on the platform he fell from the tower and landed on the ground 6.5m below. He died as a result of serious head injuries. There were no witnesses to the incident, but a single guardrail was found on the ground close to his body.

The HSE discovered there was no safe system of work in place for loading materials on to the loading tower, and no suitable assessment of the risks involved had been conducted. The investigation also revealed that the loading tower had insufficient guardrails and toe boards and neither company had ensured that the tower and access scaffolding was properly inspected on a regular basis.

Both firms were issued with a Prohibition Notice the day after the incident, which required work to stop until a safe method of work for lifting the stone had been created, and adequate edge protection was put in place to protect workers.

HSE inspector John Shelton said: “What happened to Mr Kelly was entirely preventable and would not have happened if the proper steps had been taken. Loading-up operations at scaffold loading towers are repeated on construction sites across Scotland probably thousands of times a day.

“There is no excuse for the contractors not to have agreed procedures as to how this work was to be done and ensured that this routine work was carried out safely. Where vital edge protection is removed temporarily to allow loading-up to take place steps must be taken to ensure persons cannot fall during that work.”

Robertson Construction Central appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 12 April after being found guilty at a previous hearing of breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £200,000. Stirling Stone appeared at the same hearing after being found guilty of breaching s2(1) of the Act and was also fined £200,000. No costs are awarded in Scotland.

Robertson Construction Central mitigated that, having reviewed its method of work, it had subsequently installed edge protection on the scaffold and began using a goods hoist to lift loads. It also said it had no previous convictions.

Stirling Stone accepted that it should have assessed the method of work more thoroughly before starting the job. But it also stressed that it had not been responsible for providing the equipment to access the tower. The company added it had a previously exemplary record for health and safety.

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