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February 2, 2011

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Scaffold used in fatal fall "was not up to the job"

Two building companies have been fined a total of £85,000 after a steeplejack fell 50 metres to his death during a scaffold collapse in Bolton.

Manchester Crown Court heard Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd had been contracted to carry out repairs on a disused Edwardian chimney at Swan Lane Mills in Great Leaver.

On 4 June 2007, John Alty, 40, and another worker were dismantling scaffolding, which had been erected around the chimney, after successfully completing the repairs. They began lowering parts of the scaffold to the ground with a winch, while standing on the remaining part of the scaffolding. As they were doing this the platform they were standing on collapsed. Mr Alty fell to his death but his colleague saved himself by grabbing hold of a fixed ladder, which was positioned next to the scaffolding, as he started to fall.

The HSE attended the scene on the same day and issued a Prohibition Notice to the company for failing to use a safe system of work. On investigation, the HSE found that the company had not used strong enough anchor fixings to attach the scaffolding to the chimney, despite knowing that the brickwork at the top was in a poor condition.

HSE inspector, Stuart Kitchingman, told SHP that the scaffolding had been damaged on a previous job, and Ken Brogden Ltd had been contracted to repair it. Water had leaked inside the scaffolding and frozen, which caused the joints to split. But instead of grinding out the joints and welding them back together, Ken Brogden simply welded over the weakened joints.

Inspector Kitchingman explained that the HSE was unable to establish conclusively weather the accident had been caused by the weak anchor fixings, the poor condition of the scaffold, or a combination of both. He said: “If the work had been properly managed, and carried out to industry standards, then Mr Alty would still be alive today.

“Our investigation found that the most likely cause of the scaffolding collapsing was the weak anchor fixings. But we could not rule out the poorly repaired joints on the scaffolding as a possible cause of Mr Alty’s death.

“Working as a steeplejack is a potentially dangerous job, and they need to be able to rely on their employers to provide equipment that keeps them safe. Unfortunately, the scaffolding and fixings that were provided simply weren’t up to the job.

Bailey International Steeplejack Company appeared in court on 28 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 towards costs.

Ken Brogden Ltd appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £10,000 and £16,000 in costs.

In mitigation, Bailey said it now uses different fixings and has reviewed its safe systems of work.

Ken Brogden said it cooperated with the investigation and has worked closely with the HSE to ensure it now follows industry standards when carrying out similar repairs.

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