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June 10, 2009

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Company director “wholly culpable” for bricklayer’s death

The death of a migrant worker at a building site in Dundee has resulted in fines totalling £9000 for a construction firm and one of its directors — only the second successful prosecution of a company director in Scotland in the last six years.

Andrezej Freitag, 53, was working as a bricklayer for Discovery Homes (Scotland) Ltd when the incident took place on, 28 May 2008. He died in an un-witnessed accident during the construction of a block of flats, which were being built for resale by the firm.

In the moments prior to the accident Mr Freitag and another Polish worker were instructed to pour cement into the framework of a stairwell, to form a concrete staircase. A tower crane was used to lower a tub of cement into the stairwell. It is thought that Mr Freitag was using a long stick to guide the tub into place when he lost his balance and fell down an exhaust shaft, which was positioned adjacent to the stairwell.

He fell nearly three metres and landed at the bottom of the shaft, sustaining a punctured lung and multiple skull fractures. He was taken to hospital and died the following day from his injuries.

Inspectors from the HSE visited the site and discovered that the entrance to the shaft did not have suitable edge protection. A barrier of the type normally used for roadworks was put in place by the site’s management to prevent access to the shaft. The inspectors also found a number of other open edges across the site, and issued a Prohibition Notice to stop work until these issues were addressed.

Discovery Homes (Scotland) Ltd and company director Richard Lionel John Pratt appeared at Dundee Sheriff Court on 8 June. The firm pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £5000. Pratt pleaded guilty to breaching s37(1) of the same legislation, for neglect on the part of a director to ensure the safety of an employee, and was fined £4000. Costs are not awarded in Scotland.

In mitigation, the company and Pratt offered their guilty pleas and that neither had any previous similar convictions. The firm complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice and has erected scaffolding inside all the shafts across the site, which is built to the same height as the edges, to prevent a similar accident.

HSE inspector Murray Provan said: “This accident was entirely foreseeable and preventable. Mr Freitag died because his employer and the site manager failed to do enough about the risks associated with working at height.

“Mr Pratt used the type of barrier normally found at a roadworks site as protection at the top of the shaft, which is totally unsuitable for that purpose. He was in charge from the beginning of the works, and the standard of health and safety management was his responsibility. The company’s culpability is wholly attributable to his neglect.”

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15 years ago

Most of the fatal accidents from falls are caused through head injuries. So when are we going to learn that ordinary site safety helmets offer no protection to the head during falls, and they often fall off as soon as the fall starts.
The control measures for working at height should include the wearing of suitable head protection, we need to ensure that our heads are protected in case of a fall, so lets ensure that everyone working at height wears the proper equipment.