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Lift engineer’s death exposed company’s safety failings

Date:
15 April 2013

A national lift and elevator firm has been sentenced for safety failings that were uncovered after the death of a lift engineer from an electric shock while working at Pentonville prison in North London.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated after Steven Loake, 53, from Archway, died while trying to fix a fault on the chapel lift at Pentonville prison in Holloway on 5 October 2010. The engineer did not isolate the lift from the power supply and was found dead by a prison employee the same day.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator UK Ltd (TKE) was today (15 April) fined a total of £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £25,748 for breaches of safety legislation identified during the HSE investigation. It was never contended that the breaches directly caused Mr Loake’s death.

Southwark Crown Court was told that the cause of the incident was Mr Loake coming into contact simultaneously with a live conductor and metal parts of the lift structure, thus creating a path to earth and giving him a fatal electric shock.

Investigators found the lift had not been isolated from the mains and that Mr Loake’s multimeter, an electrical test instrument, had exposed test probes, which can lead to ‘flashovers’ or arcing.

HSE found TKE Ltd, which was the maintenance contractor for all prison service lifts in the UK, had failed to provide a safe system of work for its field operatives, who were required to carry out work on live electrical systems. It had not provided sufficient information and instruction concerning work on electrical systems nor supervised employees properly.

TKE also failed in its duty to ensure Mr Loake’s work equipment was fit for use. The multimeter was not maintained in good repair and insulation had been stripped back exposing an excessive amount of metal, causing an increased risk of shock and burns.

HSE told the court that TKE Ltd was fined £233,000 at Southwark Crown Court for a breach of Section (3)1 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 back in 2010.That case related to the death of a member of the public in March 2003 in an incident involving a lift at the Broadgate Health Club in the City that TKE was responsible for maintaining.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator UK Ltd, of Bull Close Road, Nottingham, admitted single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 at an earlier hearing at Westminster Magistrates.

After the case, HSE Inspector John Crookes said:

"The company’s failures in providing a safe system of work along with appropriate information and instruction went back more than ten years. The combined effect of these inadequacies was that all TKE’s lift fitters and field operatives were exposed to an unacceptable risk when working with the company’s outdated procedures.

"In that sense, Mr Loake’s death, though not directly caused by the failings, can be seen as an example of the ‘accident waiting to happen’.

"The extent of the breaches demonstrates that TKE’s performance, as one of the leading companies in the UK lift industry, fell well below the required standard. They should be setting the standard in safety and provide an example to other operators."

For information on safe working with electricity, visit www.hse.gov.uk/electricity.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplacehealth 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 2(1)of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: : "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  3. Regulation 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: "Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair."

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