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September 22, 2009

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Flooring contractor injured in Heathrow fall

A self-employed labourer received severe leg injuries after he fell

more than three metres while working on an air bridge at Heathrow

Airport.

Keith Sterry was on contract to ROK Building Ltd, which was tasked with repairing the floors of a number of air bridges — the connecting structures between aircraft and the terminal building — at the airport’s Terminal Four.

On 15 February 2007, the floor covering of one air bridge had been lifted up, revealing a rotten underlying subfloor. An employee of ROK raised the rotten plywood panels, so all that remained was a thin, poorly-supported metal sheet.

As a way of managing the work at height, BAA Airports Ltd, which owns London Heathrow, had proposed the use of a platform, known as a crash deck, underneath the air bridge. Although ROK provided such a deck, it was not in the correct place for where it was needed. Consequently, when Mr Sterry stood on the fragile sheet, it gave way and he fell straight on to the concrete surface of the apron. His injuries were so severe that he has been unable to return to work since the incident.

Prosecuting and investigating HSE inspector, Steve Kirton, said: “Any work at height, or work near fragile surfaces, needs to be properly planned and assessed. Any identified control measures need to be fully implemented.”

He added: “These could have involved temporary boarding inside the air bridge, but the company chose to go down the route of the crash deck, which would have been adequate if it had been used correctly.”

ROK pleaded guilty on 14 May 2009 to a breach of section 4(1) of the HSWA 1974, which imposes duties on employers in relation to non-employees who use non-domestic premises made available to them as a place of work.

City of London magistrates referred the case to the Old Bailey, as they did not feel they had sufficient sentencing powers. However, the Crown Court judge believed a fine of £20,000 — which is available in the lower court — was adequate, noting the firm’s early guilty plea.

The company was sentenced on 21 September, and was ordered to pay full costs of £17,397, in addition to the fine.

In mitigation, ROK said it had quite a low accident rate for a large employer and pointed out that it has won a number of safety awards over the last few years. Since the incident, the company has also been working with the HSE on a national project that addresses a range of safety issues.

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