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January 26, 2011

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Scottish local council fined £80k for pensioner’s death

A 90-year-old woman suffered fatal injuries after falling through an access hole in her hallway floor during renovation work, which was being carried out by council employees.

Livingston Sheriff Court heard West Lothian Council was undertaking upgrade work on central-heating systems at all of its domestic properties.  On 2 July 2009, the council started work at the home of Catherine Walker in Broompark View, East Calder. The work involved fitting new radiators, pipework, a boiler, and electrical control systems. As the pipework runs under the floors, the workmen needed to lift the floorboards in the property.

During the work, Mrs Walker walked into the hallway to go to the bathroom, and she fell into an unguarded access hole. She later died in hospital from her injuries.

HSE inspector Garry Stimpson revealed the council had failed to put in place adequate edge protection to prevent the incident. He said: “This tragedy could have been avoided. The council employees should have covered the access hole, or erected a barrier around it – this would have ensured the safety of Mrs Walker.

“Those working on central-heating systems in a residential property must ensure that suitable and sufficient measures are taken to protect the residents.”

West Lothian Council appeared in court on 24 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £80,000. No costs are awarded in Scotland.

Following the hearing, a council spokesperson said: “The council unreservedly apologises for the failure that led to Mrs Walker’s death. This tragic incident has been treated with the utmost seriousness, and the council cooperated fully with the HSE’s investigation.

“The council has worked in liaison with the HSE to review and implement actions and to ensure that everything practicable is done to carry out work safely in all circumstances. The council understands that the HSE is satisfied with the actions taken.”
 

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Bob
Bob
11 years ago

I took statements for this FAE whilst at the HSE.

The level of abject failure was staggering.

Advanced warning notices given to residents included statements about holes being left in floors.

They then, took no preventative control measures what so ever to mitigate the obvious risk.

They had no procedures for assessment of inherent residential risks.

No participants were risk aware or competent of thier H&S duties.

CDM was decidedly lacking in the thought process throughout.

Jimfer
Jimfer
11 years ago

Why was the Corporate Homicide Act not enforced in this case? It was clearly not only the untrained and badly supervised workers who were at fault but primarily it was the responsibility of the managers and directors who failed in their duty of care towards their tenant by not having a proper safety system in place. especially so for the protection of such an elderly person. Hopw many other previous near misses had their been during this renovation programme or were they not reported?

Kirkmcarter
Kirkmcarter
11 years ago

Yet again, one rule for the Private Sector, another for the Public Sector. Who was responsible for the Method Statements and Risk Assessments that should have been submitted to the Council?

Ray
Ray
11 years ago

Sadly the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act will be used very sparingly, mainly because the various tests written into the Act to prove guilt will need to be very robust. This case would, desperate as it is, is unlikely to succeed. I do feel the individual workers should have borne some responsibility and not just the Council.

Councils and other publicly funded institutions are unlikely to be prosecuted anyway, because the only meaningful penalty is an unlimited fine.