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March 12, 2009

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Fall victim lucky to escape with life

Two construction companies have been fined more than £100,000 after a worker fell through an unmarked hole in a roof.

The victim, 57-year-old Tony Scott, is still off work, having suffered extensive injuries in the incident, which occurred on 11 September 2006.

The self-employed roofer was working for sub-contractor, Durable Contracts Ltd, on a project to build a new laboratory block and gatehouse for the pharmaceutical manufacturer, Eli Lilly, at Windlesham, Surrey. Mr Scott and three other workers climbed up on the flat roof of the gatehouse and proceeded to clear a number of boards.

The last board they moved was being used to cover a hole where a rooflight was to be installed. Unaware that there was a hole under the board, which had no marking to indicate this fact, Mr Scott lifted up the board and stepped forward, falling three metres through the gap.

He was taken to St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, where he spent two weeks in a coma. He suffered blood clots on his brain, a fractured collarbone, a punctured lung, and tinnitus due to damaged bones in his ear. When he awoke from his coma, he was, at first, unable to move, and endured a long period of time being fed through a tube in his nose.

HSE investigating inspector, Amanda Huff, told SHP: “The key point in this particular incident is the risk assessment. It was about planning and making sure appropriate controls for the work were in place, and making sure they were implemented.”

She stressed that there should have been some form of protection immediately underneath the hole that could not be easily removed, in order that work could be carried out safely around the opening. She also described it as “down to chance alone that this incident did not result in a fatality”.

Appearing at Guildford Crown Court on 5 March, Laing O’Rourke Construction South, the major contractor on the project, admitted a breach of reg. 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, for failing to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent a person falling a distance liable to cause injury. The company said it was very sorry for the incident and has since put in place a system of work to prevent a similar incident, including a ‘hole register’ so that holes can be regularly checked. It was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.

Pleading guilty to contravening s3(1) of the MHSWR 1999, by failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for employees working on roofs, Durable Contracts Ltd was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs. In sentencing the company, the judge took into account the fact that it was struggling financially.

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