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September 29, 2011

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Father and son car dealers fined over skylight fall

An investigation into an incident in which an employee of a Rotherham car dealership fell through a skylight revealed that no precautions had been taken to reduce the risk of a fall.

On 11 June last year, a valet and driver employed at Douglas Paul Cars’ Used Mini Centre, in Maltby, was attempting to seal leaks on the workshop roof with felt and bitumen. The 59-year old had accessed the roof through one of the office windows on the first floor of the premises but, as he was working, he caught his foot on a roof bolt and tripped.
He fell about 3.5 metres through a skylight and landed on the workshop floor below, sustaining three fractures to his back and a fracture to his left elbow. He has since recovered from his injuries and returned to work.

An investigation by Adrian Monkhouse, an environmental health officer for Rotherham Borough Council, found that Douglas Paul Cars had failed to carry out a risk assessment of the dangers associated with accessing and working on the workshop roof. Consequently, no precautions were taken to prevent falls through the fragile roof surface, through the skylights, or from the edge of the roof.

Two Improvement Notices were served, instructing the company to assess the risk to employees and non-employees of falling a distance liable to cause personal injury, and to provide warning notices at the approach to fragile surfaces through which a person may fall. The company complied with both notices.

A charge was laid against father and son, Paul and Elliott Green, who were trading as Douglas Paul Cars, under section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974 for failing to ensure the safety of their employees. The council brought a further charge under reg.3(1)(a) of the MHSWR 1999 for failing to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees while they were carrying out roofwork. Both men admitted the breaches.

Neil Concannon, solicitor for Rotherham Borough Council, said an aggravating feature of the case was that another employee was taken up on to the roof to repair the skylight following the original accident, despite the continued fragility of the roof.

Appearing at Rotherham Magistrates’ Court on 22 September, Paul and Elliott Green were each fined £2000 and each ordered to pay costs of £3615.

In mitigation, the defendants’ counsel said they had never intended to put any of their employees at risk and that, following the incident, they had taken steps to remedy the deficiencies identified. The court also heard that both defendants had entered an early guilty plea and fully cooperated with the council’s investigation.

Councillor Richard Russell, cabinet member responsible for health and safety, said: “Where appropriate, we will prosecute any company, no matter how large or how small, which fails to fulfil their legal duties to protect the welfare of their workers. Employers must consider the well-being of their staff and, most importantly, stop and think before asking their staff to undertake dangerous tasks that are not within their normal duties.”

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