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July 17, 2012

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Teenage worker plunged to death through fragile roof

A Northumberland-based agricultural engineering company and two of its directors have admitted failing to properly plan a work-at-height operation following the death of a teenage worker.

Scotts of Whittlington Ltd was contracted to carry out roof repairs on a barn at Heddon Low Farm in Heddon on the Wall, Northumberland. The company sent Jamie Lee Duddin and another employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, to replace three cracked rooflights on the barn.

On 23 July 2010, Mr Duddin was standing on top of the barnon a fibre-cement roof panel when it gave way. He fell 20 feet and landed on a concrete floor below. He died in hospital two days later from head injuries.

His colleague was on the roof at the time of the incident but managed to escape without injury by climbing down steelwork on an adjacent building.

The HSE visited the scene the day after the incident and issued a Prohibition Notice to the company, which ordered work to stop until a suitable plan of work was created.

HSE inspector Martin Smith told SHP the company failed to provide suitable equipment for the workers. He explained the incident could have been avoided if the men had been supplied with nets to hang underneath the roof slope.

“A young man has lost his life as a result of collective failures, including confusing instructions on how the work should be safely carried out, a lack of supervision, and a failure to properly plan the work and provide adequate equipment,” said inspector Smith.

Charges were brought against company director Alfred Wood who had helped devise the plan of work and also supervised the loading of the equipment. He was also charged with gross-negligence manslaughter following a police investigation.

In May, he was acquitted of the charge after the jury returned a hung verdict following a two-and-a-half-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court.

On 13 July, Scotts of Whittlington Ltd appeared at the same court and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £65,000.

Alfred Wood and Christopher Wood also appeared at the hearing and both pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the Act by virtue of breaching s37 of the same legislation. It was established that his son Christopher Wood, who was also a director, created the working practices that Mr Duddin had become accustomed to using. Consequently, he was prosecuted under the same charge and also pleaded guilty.

They were fined £13,000 and £2000 respectively. In addition, the company and the two directors were ordered to pay combined costs of £19,000.

In mitigation, the men said they had wrongly considered the work to be a small job, which wouldn’t require safety nets. The company no longer undertakes repair work.

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