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County Durham farmer fined after friend broke back in fall

28 May 2013

A farmer has been fined for safety failings after his friend broke his back in a fall while helping him out on his County Durham farm.

Leonard Laxton, 64, was seriously injured when he fell approximately four metres through a barn roof at New Acres Farm, South Moor, Stanley, on 19 July 2011.

Consett Magistrates’ Court heard today (28 May) that Mr Laxton, also of South Moor, was helping David Barron, who owned the farm, as a favour. The pair were removing roof sheets and were manually carrying them across the roof to the edge, effectively using scaffold boards as a tightrope to prevent them from stepping onto the potentially fragile roofing material beneath them.

During this process Mr Laxton either stepped or fell from a scaffolding board onto the roof, which collapsed beneath him. He broke his back in two places as well as breaking some ribs and suffering bruising to his brain. He spent five weeks in hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that that the measures in place to prevent a fall through the roof were wholly insufficient. It also identified that there was nothing in place to prevent those working on the roof from falling from its edge.

David Barron, 50, of New Acres Farm, South Moor, Stanley, County Durham was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Jonathan Wills said:

"Deaths in agriculture are often caused by fragile roofs and advice on precautions to prevent or reduce the risk from falls when working at height and working on fragile material is well publicised.

"Mr Barron failed to put suitable measures in place to prevent or reduce the risk to both himself and Mr Laxton from falling through or from the barn roof.

"The risk of sustaining serious injuries could have been dramatically reduced had Mr Barron carried out the work from a mobile platform beneath the roof, or if he had arranged for nets or other equally effective fall protection to be positioned beneath the areas where both he and Mr Laxton had been working."

More information about safe working at height can be found at

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.
  2. Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.

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