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South Yorkshire council in court over care home fall

Date:
6 September 2013

Doncaster Borough Council has been prosecuted for neglecting safety precautions after an 82-year-old vulnerable woman was injured in a fall at one of their care homes.

The woman, who has dementia, suffered cuts and bruises when she fell nearly two metres into an unguarded open sewage drain at Oldfield House care home in Stainforth on 29 March 2012.

The Council appeared at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court today (6 Sept) charged with a breach of safety legislation after the incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Magistrates heard that a recently-qualified apprentice plumber was on site clearing a blockage in a live sewage drain via a manhole just outside a fire door at the end of a corridor. He had left the open hole exposed and the fire door open while he went back into the building to fetch water to flush the blockage.

While the hole was unguarded, the elderly resident walked down the corridor and inadvertently through the open fire door and stumbled into the open hole. She needed an overnight stay in hospital and treatment for minor cuts and bruising.

HSE told the court the Council had failed to put simple measures in place to protect residents and staff while the work was being carried out. These could include placing temporary barriers around the hole, asking someone to keep watch on the open grate, or merely placing the cover back on the drain temporarily, and closing the fire door.

Doncaster Borough Council, of Council House, College Road, Doncaster, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,040 in costs after admitting breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the case, HSE Inspector Tim Johnson said:

"This is a residential care home that will be, by its very nature, occupied by vulnerable and possibly easily-confused elderly people. It is, therefore, particularly important that proper planning and the greatest vigilance are duly accorded.

"It is fortunate this lady sustained only minor bruising but she was evidently badly distressed and did need an overnight stay in hospital.

"Doncaster’s risk assessment had outlined preventative measures to be taken but failed to follow that through. The inexperienced plumber was sent on his own, had not been trained in safe procedures and was not supplied with barriers – a failing that has since been rectified.

"All employers must make sure they provide the necessary equipment and train their employees to carry out work in a safe manner. However short the duration of a job, they must take into account the risks presented by the environment they are working in."

In 2011/12, HSE reported that there were 22 fatal slip, trip or fall deaths to members of the public in the health and residential care sector, with most of the victims over 65 years of age. The sector also has one of the highest number of injuries caused by slips and trips.

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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