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October 12, 2009

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Untrained teenage worker injured in fall at power station

A support services company has admitted to implementing inappropriate work-at-height procedures after an incident in which an untrained worker was left with multiple injuries.

Kieran Walker, 18, was working as a temporary cleaner for Carillion (AMBS) Ltd at the E.ON UK power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire, when the incident took place on 7 October 2007. He was told to clean two ducts, which are used to add oxygen to the station’s coal boilers.

He was given a harness to attach to a fixing point adjacent to the ducts, but was not provided with training or instructions on how to use the equipment. Working alongside a colleague he stood on top of one of the ducts and began to clean ash that had built up inside it, emptying the waste into plastic bags. Once the bags were full, his colleague went to find more empty bags and left Mr Walker unsupervised.

As the worker was walking back towards the ducts, he saw that Mr Walker had unclipped his harness, slipped, and fallen in between two ducts. Mr Walker fell 6.5 metres to the ground and suffered a broken femur, 11 broken ribs, a bruised lung, and a blow to the head that required stitches. He is still unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

Carillion appeared in Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on 2 October and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, for failing to properly plan and supervise work at height, and reg. 6(3) of the same legislation, for not taking suitable steps to prevent an accident. It was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £8300 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it regretted the incident and had no previous convictions. It has now stopped using this method of work to clean the ducts, and contracts specialist rope-access workers to carry out the task.

HSE inspector Sian Tiernan told SHP: “The company set up a system of work that was contrary to good practice and increased the risk of injuries. Mr Walker received insufficient training, which was particularly important given the system of work that was in operation.

“This accident could have been avoided if the firm had either instructed workers to carry out the work using a power washer from a fixed point, or by installing fall protection in the form of scaffolding, or barriers.”

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