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November 20, 2009

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Construction firm fined GBP 75,000 for child death

A judge has slammed a construction firm for failing to remove scaffolding, which he said “led to the death” of a child.

Lovell Partnerships Ltd was contracted to carry out renovations on a top-floor flat at Dryburgh, Washington, Tyne and Wear. The firm had erected scaffolding to make a one-off repair to a flue on the property. The work should have taken no longer than a day to complete, but the job was delayed and the scaffolding remained in place for 11 days.

On 23 April 2006, Adam Tiffin gained access to the roof of the property, where children had created a den. He died after falling eight metres from the roof in an unwitnessed incident, but it is likely that the seven-year-old had gone on to the roof after climbing the scaffold

HSE Principal Inspector, Rob Hirst, said: “Sadly, this tragic incident could so easily have been avoided. The scaffold was only required for a fraction of the time it was erected. It was taken down immediately after the incident but this death may have been prevented had it been removed sooner.

“I would remind all of those involved in construction work to not only consider the risks arising from construction activities but to include the additional risks relevant to the environment they are working in — such as, in this incident, children gaining access to play.”

Lovell Partnerships Ltd appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on 10 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £46,109 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said the scaffolding was not defective and had been constructed in accordance to standard industry practice. It also told the court it had no previous convictions and an excellent safety record.

Judge Esmond Faulks said he had taken into account the company’s good safety history, and its guilty plea. In his summary, he said: “It has long been recognised that scaffolding can be an allurement to children.

“The real gravity of the case is that the company did not have the scaffolding removed, which I’m told would have probably taken no more than one hour. It instead allowed the scaffolding to remain in place for a further 11 days, in an area where there were children.

“The aggravating feature is that the failure led to death. The fine clearly has to be substantial to reflect the grave consequences of the breach of duty.”

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