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December 3, 2008

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Two companies fined over pensioner fall

A householder suffered serious injuries after falling through a hatch in her hallway, which had been left open by workmen.

Perth Sheriff Court heard on 27 November that an 81-year-old woman in Stanley, near Perth, was having an oil-fired central-heating system installed in her property when the incident occurred in September 2007.

The installation was part of the Scottish Government Central Heating Programme, the management of which had been contracted to British Gas Services Ltd. Adrian Newth, trading as Perthshire Oil Heating, was carrying out the installation when he opened the hatch, which was located in the floor of the hallway. Newth left the hatch open and unguarded, and told the householder to remain in living room while he went to carry out work on another part of the property with two electricians.

However, the woman walked into the hallway to gain access to her front door and fell down the open hatch. She received serious injuries to her upper right arm and severe cuts and bruises to her back and legs.

British Gas Sevices pleaded guilty under s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £2700 in compensation to the householder. Newth also pleaded guilty to the same charge but, owing to his lack of means, the court decided against imposing a fine, instead ordering him to pay £300 compensation to the victim.

In mitigation, British Gas Services accepted blame for its part in the incident and admitted that the proper controls were not in place. It entered an early guilty plea and said it was very remorseful that the accident had occurred.

Newth told the court that he was not responsible for leaving the hatch open and blamed the two electricians.

HSE Principal Inspector, Jim Skilling, told SHP: “Both a big and small company have been implicated in this accident. It is not sensible or acceptable for contractors to assume that simply telling the occupant to remain in the front room is sufficient.

“Contactors must take positive steps to prevent any incident by implementing a safe-system-of-work approach, where all holes are covered, or have barriers to ensure the safety of all persons, whether occupants or visitors. This was a wholly-preventable incident, which has greatly affected the householder, and it could very well have proved fatal.”

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