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April 14, 2010

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Firm fined GBP 100,000 for airport hangar fall

An HSE inspector has criticised a company for not learning its lessons following the death of one of its employees.

Rubb Buildings Ltd had been contracted to dismantle a temporary airport hangar at Bristol International Airport. On 16 December 2006, Steven Watson and a colleague were using a cherry picker to remove the hangar’s PVC tarpaulin roof.

Mr Watson was given permission by his supervisor to step on to the roof and cut a hole in the tarpaulin. He was not wearing a harness and as he went to climb back on to the mobile work platform, he fell 30 feet through the section of the roof that he had cut away on to the concrete floor below. He died at the scene from internal injuries.

The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against the firm on 20 December 2006 for failing to implement a safe system of work, and to stop workers gaining direct access to the roof of the hangar. Inspectors stressed that Mr Watson should not have been allowed to access the roof at any time. He should have been instructed to cut the tarpaulin from the underside of the roof, while standing inside the cherry picker.

In January 2007, the company was contracted to erect a temporary hangar at Sellafield Nuclear power plant. But it was not allowed to start the job after the site’s principal contractor, the Kier Group, deemed that the firm’s method of work and equipment were unsuitable.

HSE inspector Steve Frain told SHP: “The principal contractor at Sellafield had no knowledge about the fatality at Bristol International Airport. It does not appear to me that Rubb Buildings had been proactive in learning the lessons from this tragic accident, despite receiving a letter from the HSE about its failings during the incident and being issued with a Prohibition Notice.”

Prosecuted in relation to the incident at Bristol Airport, Rubb Buildings appeared at Bristol Crown Court on 13 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £48,795.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had entered an early guilty plea. It has subsequently put in place a new system for managing PPE and reviewed its method statement.

Inspector Frain added: “Steven Watson should have been properly protected by Rubb Buildings Ltd, but instead he lost his life.

“The company failed in its duty to ensure there was a properly planned and supervised means of working. There should have been no need to work directly on the roof. Falls from height can be extremely serious risks and adequate safety measures must be in place to protect all workers in order to prevent tragic incidents, such as this.”

The principal contractor for the work at Bristol International Airport, Volkerfitzpatrick Ltd, was also prosecuted. It appeared at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on 13 October 2009 and pleaded guilty to s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £6000 and ordered to pay £10,146 in costs.

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