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July 20, 2009

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Construction worker paralysed after falling from unsuitable work platform

A construction firm has been fined £92,000 after one of its workers was left paralysed following a fall.

Harold Roach was working as a labourer for Property People (NW) Ltd, which had been contracted to convert riding stables into an office building at Stanhope House in Bromborough, on the Wirral.

Mr Roach was attempting to replace a number of rotting ceiling joists that were situated above an archway at the site, when the accident took place, on 23 April 2005. He was standing on plywood sheeting, which had been laid on top of the joists to distribute his weight, and when he stepped backwards on to one of the rotten joists it gave way, causing him to fall ten feet to the ground. He was taken to hospital where it was diagnosed that he had broken the T7 vertebrae in his spine, which has left him permanently paralysed from the waist down.  

His employer failed to report the incident and the HSE only became aware of it four months later. Investigators visited the site in August 2005 and issued an Improvement Notice for failure to appoint a planning supervisor for a job that was scheduled to last longer than four weeks.

Property People (NW) Ltd appeared at Liverpool Crown Court on 20 July and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 — fine £90,000, and reg. 3(1) of RIDDOR 1995 — fine £2000. It was also ordered to pay full costs of £11,404.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and regretted the incident. It complied with the terms of the Improvement Notice by appointing a safety officer to act as planning supervisor for the site.

HSE inspector Ian Betley said:  “The injuries Mr Roach sustained were extremely serious and he will need to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“Working at height remains the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury. It should be managed by implementing and enforcing suitable and sufficient control measures.

“Companies are required by health and safety legislation to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of employees and others that may be affected by their work. In this case, a suitable platform should have been used to remove the joists from below, rather than from above. Had such steps been taken, this incident could have been avoided.”

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