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October 5, 2009

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Director failed to recognise risks posed by fragile roof

A migrant worker suffered serious injuries after falling through an unprotected rooflight at a warehouse in Gateshead.

Gateshead Magistrates’ Court heard that Webber Trading Ltd had been contracted to carry out roof repairs at Shoe City’s premises in Sands Lane Industrial Estate, on 3 July 2007. The work required steel sheets to be installed over the top of plastic rooflights to prevent leaks.

Lucasz Czuba, 28, was working as a casual labourer for Webber Trading, and was part of a four-man team that carried out the repairs. The building was split into three bays, which were occupied by Shoe Zone and two other businesses. Four of the eight rooflights overlapped between two units, and the workers were told to cover the side of the rooflights that were situated above Shoe Zone.

Mr Czuba had placed a metal sheet over the side of the final rooflight overlooking Shoe Zone. He then stepped on the uncovered side of the rooflight, which gave way, and he fell seven metres on to the warehouse floor. As a result of the fall he suffered fractures to his skull, pelvis, wrist, and right cheekbone, which has resulted in permanent damage to the optical nerve in his right eye. His injuries have prevented him from returning to work.

Webber Trading appeared at court on 29 September and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £6000 in total and ordered to pay £2838 in costs. The firm’s director, Jeffrey Robinson, also pleaded guilty to the same breaches, by virtue of s37 of the same Act. He was fined £1000 with costs of £200.

In mitigation, Robinson told the court that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, owing to his illness, the company was in a poor financial position. He asked the court to consider his circumstances and lack of means.

This is not the first time the firm has been convicted for a safety breach. In 2002 it was fined £4000 for breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 after one of its employees fell through an unprotected roof at a factory in Liverpool.

HSE inspector Martin Smith told SHP: “It is clear that the director and the company failed to recognise the risks posed in working on the fragile rooflights. This serious incident could have been avoided.”

“The measures that should have been taken in order to prevent this incident happening are straightforward and well documented. The firm could have either installed safety nets underneath the rooflights, or properly covered the rooflights with a non-fragile material.”

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