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October 26, 2010

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Judge slams firm for not learning lessons from previous conviction

A construction company in Northern Ireland has appeared in court after a worker fell 21 feet in an incident that was described as “almost identical” to one for which the firm was prosecuted 18 months ago.

Downpatrick Crown Court heard that John Graham (Dromore) Ltd was contracted to be part of a project to construct a 21-foot-deep underground water chamber at a new waste-water scheme at Bangor, Northern Ireland.

During the construction of the chamber, the access areas in the roof of the structure were only covered with unsecured plywood. On 26 June 2009, a sub-contractor working for John Graham (Dromore) stepped on to one of the covers and fell to the bottom of the chamber. He suffered severe injuries to his head and spine, which have left him paraplegic and with permanent brain damage. He is still in hospital and will require constant care for the rest of his life.

The firm appeared in court on 22 October and pleaded guilty to breaching article 5(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978, for failing to ensure the safety of a person not in its employment, and reg.6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations (NI) 2005. It was fined £40,000 for each offence and ordered to pay £1386 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it had completed the job safely by installing edge protection around the access areas and then built a scaffold beneath the roof so the permanent covers could be installed safely.

The court heard that in May 2009, the company was fined a total of £50,000 at Antrim Crown Court for a very similar incident. In October 2006, Sean Johnston, an employee of the company, was working on the roof of an underground water chamber during the construction of a water-treatment plant at Portrush. He was installing covers on the roof of the structure when he fell into the chamber, which was full of water, and drowned.

In delivering the sentence for the Bangor incident, Judge Millar commented: “I would have expected the experience of the previous incident to have made an impact on the company.”

After the hearing HSENI inspector for the major investigations team, Kevin Campbell, said: “It is vital that companies identify and address hazards within the workplace. Falls from height must be prevented by the implementation of sensible and effective procedures. These systems need to be communicated to the workforce, implemented, maintained, and updated when necessary. Simple measures would have prevented workers on this project from falling.”

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