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May 1, 2012

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Parish council fined after worker paralysed in church fall

A self-employed joiner was left paralysed from the waist down after falling from a balcony inside a church in South Kensington.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, was contracted by the Holy Trinity Brompton parish council to help with the refurbishment of the balcony at St Paul’s church in Onslow Square.

The project began in early 2009 to install an adjustable floor and handrail, so the balcony could be used in a stepped church-seating style, or a flat raised position. A high barrier was erected around the balcony, but this was removed after several months following complaints that it interfered with the movement of material at the site.

Instead, a lower barrier was installed, which was just over a metre high when the floor was in the stepped position, but only 20cm above the floor when it was in the raised position. A system of work was created to install a temporary barrier when the floor was raised to the higher level.

On 3 March 2010, the joiner was repairing a hole in the balcony floor, which was in the raised position. The temporary barrier had not yet been installed and the lower rail didn’t have an upright support. When he leant on the rail, it dropped, and he fell over the edge and landed on the floor three metres below. He suffered a broken back, three broken ribs and a broken shoulder. He has been left paralysed from the waist down owing to his injuries.

HSE inspector Peter Collingwood said the incident could have been easily prevented if adequate edge protection had been permanently installed. He said: “Simple, higher edge protection, which that had been in place earlier in the project, had been removed and a temporary extra barrier for use when the new floor was in the raised position was not put in place.

“This incident has had life-changing consequences for this man, and shows how important it is for companies to ensure that effective edge protection exists to guard against any potential falls from height.”

The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Holy Trinity Brompton with St Paul Onslow Square (HTB) appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 25 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay full costs of £4458.

In mitigation, the council said it deeply regretted the incident and quickly came to a compensation agreement with the victim. It entered an early guilty plea and told the court that it erected a scaffold around the balcony until the work was completed.

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11 years ago

Please note that contrary to the heading of this article, the convicted body was not a parish council but a parochial church council. A parish council is the first tier of local government whereas a parochial church council is an ecclesiastical body responsible for church matters within a parish which may or may not have boundaries co-terminus with its civil counterpart.