12 April 2013
Leeds City Council was today fined for safety failings after it ignored warnings from its own staff about a rotting flagpole, which later collapsed and fractured the skull of a two-year-old girl.
The toddler had been playing in the park at Otley Memorial Garden with her mother on 31 March 2012 when the 5.5m wooden flagpole suddenly fell. In addition to her head injury, the youngster suffered a broken foot and was in hospital for a week. It is thought she will need continuing checks at hospital for several years to come.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and the council pleaded guilty to breaching safety legislation at the city’s magistrates’ court last month. Appearing at Leeds Crown Court today for sentencing, the authority was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £6,116 in costs.
The court was told HSE found that as early as November 2010 the grounds’ maintenance staff had alerted the Councils’ Bereavement Service, which manages the garden, to the fact that the pole was decaying and needed attention.
The warning that the structure was in a poor condition was repeated in Spring 2011 and led to the council’s property team being asked to inspect the flagpole, although no action was taken. In November that year, an officer attended and agreed the flagpole was in need of repair and phoned Otley town council. However, the town council had no responsibilities for the pole so nothing was done.
HSE’s investigation identified that Leeds City Council had no system in place for recording maintenance requests at the Memorial Garden in Otley or acting on issues raised.
Leeds City Council, of Calverley Street, Leeds, admitted a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Julian Franklin said:
“This was an 18-foot, heavy wooden flagpole that toppled without warning in a public garden. It is pure luck that this young child wasn’t killed.
“It was an incident that was easily preventable. The fact that the structure was rotting at the base had been raised by staff with managers on several occasions over the previous two years but it seems the warnings were either not heard or not heeded.
“In that respect, the Council fell well below the standards expected and failed in its duties to maintain buildings and structures under its control in a safe condition. On this occasion, a young girl was seriously injured, rather than killed.”
Notes to editors
- 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
- 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.”