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Plymouth building company in court for worker’s fall

27 September 2013

A Plymouth building company has been fined for safety breaches after an employee suffered multiple injuries in a fall at work.

Geoffrey Burt, 59, from Plymouth, was helping to pull up a floor at the premises of W Cooper and Son (Plymouth) Ltd in Commercial Road, Coxside, when he fell 2.3 metres down a void. He sustained several fractures to his ribs, shoulder blade and spine, as well as severe cuts to his head.

The incident, on 25 January 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which today (27 September 2013) prosecuted the company at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court.

HSE found the company had told a worker to examine rot on the floor of a small, disused industrial building beneath layers of vinyl and carpet. This had revealed a void of 2.3 metres between concrete plinths which had been covered over to create the floor.

The next day, Mr Burt was asked to help remove the floor. He was kneeling to cut through the floor boards and pulling them up towards himself when his free hand slipped on wet vinyl and he plunged head first into the space below.

Despite his injuries he had to walk around seven metres inside the void below the floor to attract the attention of another worker before he could be rescued.

HSE found that although the company took some steps to prevent people approaching the void, it failed to take any measures to protect employees from falls.

There was no evidence of a written risk assessment or method of working for the removal of the floor, and Mr Burt’s supervisor, who was nearby, failed to advise him to work in a safer way.

W Cooper and Son (Plymouth) Ltd of Commercial Road, Plymouth, pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Annette Walker, said:

"Mr Burt’s injuries have caused him a great deal of distress and pain and could easily have been avoided if his employer had simply provided a board to cover-up the hole.

"This incident was entirely foreseeable and highlights the need for employers to take their responsibilities for the safety of their workforce seriously, especially when there are known risks.

"The company should have ensured there were adequate safety measures to guard against falls and that their employees had suitable instructions and equipment for the work and were properly supervised."

Further information about working safely at height can be found on the HSE website 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 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 reasonable practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."

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