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November 4, 2011

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Building firm that ignored HSE advice fined £145,000

A Manchester-based building company has been fined £145,000 after an employee fell through a fragile roof and died two years later from post-traumatic epilepsy.

Alan Kerwin was working for J Mills (Contractors) Ltd when the incident took place on 31 March 2007. The company had been contracted to replace a skylight at a warehouse in Ashton-under-Lyne.

Manchester Crown court heard that Mr Kerwin was on the roof with two colleagues when he stepped on fragile cement that surrounded the rooflight. The cement shattered and he fell through the roof and landed on a concrete floor ten metres below. He suffered a fractured skull and developed post-traumatic epilepsy as a result of his injuries. He later died from an epileptic seizure in April 2009.

The HSE had given information to Mr Kerwin’s line manager only a week before the incident on how to safely manage work on fragile roofs. But this advice had not been acted upon and the HSE’s subsequent investigation found that no risk assessment had been carried out before the work started and no safety measures were put in place to prevent workers from falling through the fragile roof.

The company was issued with an Improvement Notice on 2 April 2007, which required work to stop until action was taken to protect workers from falling through the roof. HSE inspector David Norton said: “Falls from height remain the biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of serious injury. But Mr Kerwin was allowed to walk across a roof without anything in place to stop him falling.

“Just one week before, Mr Kerwin’s line manager was advised by a colleague of mine about the dangers of working at height, and how to protect employees. If he had acted on this advice then I’m confident Mr Kerwin would still be alive today.”

J Mills (Construction) Ltd appeared in court on 31 October and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £7700 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it had no previous convictions and fully cooperated with the investigation while entering an early guilty plea.

After the hearing, inspector Norton added: “This is a tragic case, in which someone has lost their father, as a result of an entirely avoidable incident.”

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Adfaf
Adfaf
12 years ago

There are far too many of these types of incidents being reported. Such an obvious failure by the firm and it’s even more shocking considering they had only jut received advice from the HSE. I’m glad they got a decent size fine maybe next time they will act on advice!

Bob
Bob
12 years ago

Why was no enforcement action taken prior to this incident ?

Surely they breached more than just section 2.1 ? WAH 2005 is supposed to enforce duty holder compliance specific to WAH.

Yet again a company pleads guilty and gets a reduced penalty, when the evidence clearly shows a number of failures to adopt best practice.

If you kill someone and all the evidence stacks up against you, why should you get away with a guilty plea, significantly reducing the fine.

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick
12 years ago

I am beginning to sound like a stuck record. Why is there no mention of the cash and carry company? What is the difference with the case in Wrexham in 2007 when a large elctrical chain was fined when a contract roofer fell from their warehouse? Were they only at fault because they were large?

Ray
Ray
12 years ago

No excuses, this was a construction company who should have known about the dangers of working at height and fragile roofs. One can only hope that individual managers/ directors of the company will now be held accountable for their acts or omissions – especially after being advised how to do the work safely!

If this is the h&s standard to be expected by the company, then what other breaches could be found with a perusal of their procedures and practices?

Dave Kelly
Dave Kelly
3 years ago
Reply to  Ray

The line manager Ian nolan used to tell me that they hadn’t priced for safety m,easures & if you don’t like it you are free to leave. I left

Ray
Ray
12 years ago

Beano, it is a tragedy that someone had to die first!

Ray
Ray
12 years ago

Ken, yes you are beginning to sound like a stuck record, however I wholly agree, time and again we see those (ie clients) who are not held accountable for their actions. Yet, the 2007 CDM Regs are founded on the principle that the client is responsible for ensuring those engaged in tasks are suitable and competent.

Moreover, the HSE appear to be prosecuting less and less, presumably to save money? When you consider the case of R v Porter [2008] it all makes no sense whastoever. Mantra over.