A construction company has been fined just £1 following the death of a contractor at a site in Lancashire.
The incident took place during the construction of three new office buildings at the Altham Industrial Estate, near Altrincham. Glenmill Group (Developments) Ltd was the principal contractor at the site and had sub-contracted Howorth Scaffolding Services Ltd to erect scaffolding during the construction of the buildings.
On 10 May 2006, two of the three buildings had been completed, and Peter Walton was working as a sub-contractor on the final building. He was fixing wall-plates to the building’s steel framework so that trusses could be installed to hold the roof in place. While he was working he stepped on an unsecured scaffolding board and fell five metres to the ground. He struck his head during the fall and died in hospital five weeks later.
The HSE attended the scene on the day of the incident and discovered that the scaffolding had numerous safety failings. Inspectors found that the board that gave way under Mr Walton had not been properly tightened. There was also a lack of adequate edge protection across the scaffold, and it had unsafe foundations.
A Prohibition Notice was issued immediately, which required the scaffold to be made safe before work could resume. HSE inspector Ian Connor said: “Both these companies contributed to Peter Walton’s death by failing to follow the proper safety procedures for putting up scaffolding.
“Howorth Scaffolding should have made sure that it constructed the scaffolding properly. And, as the principal contractor for the site, Glenmill Group should have ensured it was safe before allowing construction workers on to it.
“This is an extremely sad case, which, once again, shows how important it is to follow health and safety regulations. It’s vital that construction companies do more to prevent deaths and injuries in the future.”
Both firms appeared at Preston Crown Court on 25 October and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. Howorth Scaffolding was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £13,793 in costs. Glenmill Group was fined £1 and was also ordered to pay £13,793 towards costs. The judge said the fines had to take into account the companies’ current financial means. The court had been told that any significant fine imposed on the Glenmill Group would cause it to go out of business.
Neither company had any previous convictions, and both cooperated with the HSE’s investigation. Howorth Scaffolding took action to make the scaffold safe, and Glenmill Group appointed an independent safety inspector to assess the scaffold before work resumed.
Following the hearing, Mr Walton’s widow Christine said: “I know this prosecution won’t bring him back but it will help to give me some sort of closure, and to bring this type of incident to the forefront. Sadly, Peter’s death is just one of many needless deaths that occur in the construction industry due to slack adherence to health and safety regulations.
“Hopefully, what happened to Peter, and is still happening on construction sites, will make people realise that health and safety laws are there to protect us and are not to be scorned and scoffed at.”
However, Mrs Walton has also been quoted in the national press as saying the £1 fine is and “outrageous” and an “appalling joke”. Pressure group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) agreed saying it wouldn’t deter other companies from making the same mistakes. A statement said: “Insulting fines are not rare and won’t deter other employers, or make them comply with the law to stop killing, injuring, or making workers ill in what are totally preventable incidents and occurrences.”
The British Safety Council also criticised the court’s decision. Head of policy and public affairs, Neal Stone, said: “The fine of £1 sends out all of the wrong messages. Thousands of workers are still being injured or made ill by work – the 2009/10 statistics are evidence that Peter Walton’s preventable death was not an exception but sadly an all too frequent occurrence in a society that has still to grasp the harm and loss that poorly managed health and safety brings. A £1 fine is an insult to Peter Walton’s family.”
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