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September 3, 2008

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Firm and director brought to book over electrician’s fall

A demolition company and one of its directors appeared in court after identified measures to control the risk of falls from height were not implemented, leading to the injury of a subcontractor.

Demolition company Wooldridge Ecotec, from Bagshot, Surrey, and Nicholas Anderson, a director responsible for health and safety, were fined a total of £20,000 after electrician Barry Murrell suffered a broken pelvis and fractured hip in a fall.

City of London magistrates heard on 26 August that the former Pirelli cables factory in Erith, Kent, was being prepared for explosive demolition by Wooldridge on 11 March 2005. The firm had been pre-weakening a large tower on the site before demolishing it with explosives.

The tower contained reclaimable electrical cabling that could be used to connect up a generator to provide power on the site. Subcontracted electricians had been told by Anderson, who was responsible for carrying out risk assessments for subcontracted work, that they could get the cable they needed out of the tower.

However, a building that had surrounded the base of the tower and had provided an external wall to the rear had already been demolished, so that most of the external wall was missing on the first floor of the tower.

Loraine Charles, the HSE inspector who investigated and prosecuted the case, explained to SHP that the tower contained a series of shafts, or voids, which had been enclosed in steel-box structures that had been dismantled as part of the pre-weakening work on the first floor.

Steel sheeting, which had made up the structures had been laid over the holes, but not fixed in place. As he and a colleague walked across the floor to collect the cable, Mr Murrell stepped on one of the unfixed steel sheets, which gave way beneath him. He fell 5.5 metres onto a pile of rubble below.

Wooldridge Ecotec said in mitigation that it accepted that the control measures it had identified had not been put in place, even though it had carried out a sufficient risk assessment.

Anderson said it had not been his personal responsibility to ensure proper procedures were in place, and this should have been done by the site foreman. The company’s overall health and safety manager should have made sure the risk assessments were adequate.

Inspector Charles, added: “Mr Murrell’s injuries were very serious, but the consequences could have been far worse.” She said the director had personal knowledge of the circumstances leading to the incident, but he “failed to take obvious steps to prevent it”.

The HSE investigation found that although Wooldridge Ecotec had produced a health and safety plan, Anderson did not carry out risk assessments for the electricians, or instruct anyone to carry them out on his behalf. Wooldridge Ecotec did not take effective steps to control the risks to subcontracted electricians, or prevent access to the tower once conditions within it had become hazardous. Although a previous risk assessment had been carried out for work by subcontracted electricians, this had not been implemented.

Wooldridge Ecotec pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of non-employees, and was fined £15,000, with £4971 in full costs. Anderson was fined £5000, with full costs of £1657, after pleading guilty to the same offence.

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