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April 4, 2011

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Worker suffered coma following scaffold fall

A construction worker has been left blind in one eye after falling three metres from a tower scaffold.

On 3 March 2010, self-employed builder and fitter John Ingram, 55, was working on a project to refurbish an agricultural building in Newgate Street, Watford, Hertfordshire. He was hired by principal contractor, Balsham (Buildings) Ltd, to install a louvre vent to a gable end wall on the building, which was being turned into a grain store.

In order to access the gable end, Mr Ingram climbed up a tower scaffold, which had been erected on top of a freight container. Once he had installed the vent he began descending the ladder on the outside of the scaffold, but he lost his balance and fell to the ground. He suffered facial fractures, cuts and bruising and was in a coma for several days. He was unable to work for eight months and has lost the vision in his right eye owing to his injuries. He has only been able to return to work on a part-time basis.

The HSE visited the scene on the day of the incident and found there was no edge protection on the containers, the scaffold had indequate footing, and the ladder had not been secured to the platform. It issued a Prohibition Notice, which required work to stop until it was properly planned.

The investigation also found that the internal works on the project had been planned and carried out safely, with a scissor lift provided to enable employees to work at height. According to HSE inspector, John Berezansky, the incident could have been avoided if Mr Ingram had been provided with the same equipment.

He said: “Incidents like Mr Ingram’s fall are entirely avoidable. Falling from height is one of the most obvious and well-known dangers on a construction site.

“A lax attitude to health and safety in one of the more dangerous industries is not acceptable, especially when so many incidents are completely avoidable by taking commonsense actions and precautions. As always, HSE will not hesitate to take action if we find poor practice that is putting lives at risk.”

Balsham (Buildings) appeared at Watford Crown Court on 30 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg. 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was fined £7000 for each offence and ordered to pay £8832 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and entered an early guilty plea. It provided a mobile elevated work platform so the work could be completed safely. It has also subsequently reviewed its training programme for planning work at height.

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