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Firm fined for Hippodrome worker fall

Date:
3 October 2013

The principal contractor for a major project to renovate the historic Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square has been fined for safety failings after a worker fell from an unguarded edge and plunged over four storeys.

The 35-year-old sub-contractor, who does not want to be named, broke his left leg and several bones in his foot in the incident on 5 March 2012.

His fall was two-staged as the unguarded edge was above a plant room. He dropped into the room and then through a riser duct for an air-conditioning system, where he fell a further four storeys. The total distance was more than 14 metres.

It appears that the metal sheeting of the bottom of the duct partially cushioned the impact and may have saved his life.

Surrey-based Beck Interiors Ltd, which was responsible for a large-scale refit of the landmark venue, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for not doing enough to prevent falls.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday (2 October) that the injured contractor was in a loft overlooking the plant room after taking an alternative route from the roof areas of the building.

There was no edge protection in the loft to prevent a fall, and the riser duct for the air-conditioning was exposed because a sturdy cover had been removed, leaving just a plastic sheet to keep out dust. This offered little resistance as he plunged straight through.

HSE told the court that had the edge been adequately protected, as was later achieved using scaffolding, then the incident could have been avoided. A properly secured cover for the duct could also have prevented the initial one storey drop from becoming any worse.

The District Judge also heard that Beck Interiors was aware of the need to improve its management of work at height risks, having received written advice from HSE officials and independent safety advisors following earlier visits to this site and others.

The company, of Cox Lane, Chessington, was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £13,365 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Stephron Baker-Holmes said:

"This was a serious incident that could have ended in tragedy. It is astonishing that the worker plunged so far and escaped more serious harm, and he is incredibly fortunate that the metal duct broke his fall.

"This case highlights the need for principal contractors to proactively manage work at height risks, and to take appropriate action to prevent or mitigate falls.

"The company expressed regret, but asserted that the injured person should not have been in the loft area. However the fact is that others were also accessing the loft, and the risk of falling should have been adequately controlled."

Further information on working safely at height can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/falls

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

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