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January 8, 2010

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Firm criticised for “reckless” regard for law

A construction firm has been fined £15,000 after a sub-contractor fell down a stairwell during the construction of a residential property.

Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court heard that ECH Ltd, trading as Maple Timber Frames, was constructing a two-storey house at Warwick Park in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. The firm had hired a sub-contractor to install timber frames to act as supports for the building’s walls.

On 18 November 2008, the contractor was fitting the supports inside the walls on the first floor of the building. A pallet containing wall tiles had been positioned over the top of the opening of a stairwell. But the pallet was not big enough to cover all of the opening, and a gap remained.

The incident was unwitnessed, and it is thought that the worker was removing packaging from around the wall tiles when he stepped back and fell down the opening. He landed at the bottom of the concrete stairwell, five metres below. He was taken to hospital for treatment for multiple fractures to his arms, legs, and skull.

HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe told SHP: “This incident could have been avoided if the company had taken any of a number of steps to reduce the risk of a fall. It could have installed a birdcage scaffold through the opening, boarded off the stairwell, or provided temporary covers.

“There was also a number of other areas on the site that presented a risk of falls. The introduction of soft landing measures in these areas would have reduced the risk of injuries.”

ECH Ltd appeared in court on 6 January and pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. In addition to the fine the firm was ordered to pay £5000 in costs.

The company has no previous convictions and told the court it has subsequently secured the services of an external safety consultancy to review its methods of work. It also increased supervision on the site to ensure safe working practices were being followed.

Inspector Stancliffe added: “I would echo the magistrates’ statement that these were reckless breaches of the law. The injured man is extremely lucky — despite the severity of his injuries. This sort of fall could easily have killed him. It is all the sadder because it could have been prevented if ECH Ltd had heeded simple safety advice.”

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