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Construction firm sentenced after basement fall paralyses worker

Date:
22 May 2014

A Southwark construction company has been ordered to pay more than £126,000 in fines and costs after a worker was left paralysed from the waist down when he fell eight metres from an unguarded window space into a basement.

The 38-year-old, of Beckenham, who does not want to be named, damaged his spinal cord in the incident at Grove Park, in Southwark, on 1 July 2011.

He is no longer able to walk or work and has had to overcome major physical and emotional trauma as he adjusts to life in a wheelchair.

His employer Habitat Construction LLP was sentenced today (22 May) for safety failings following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Southwark Crown Court heard the injured worker was part of a team transforming two former Victorian hostels into four single town houses, a project that involved demolition, refurbishment and new-build activity.

During the work windows were removed from the buildings, which HSE established happened in an ad-hoc and uncontrolled manner. They were taken out at various times and for a variety of reasons, but no measures were put in place to prevent a fall through the spaces it created, such as boarding or guard rails. This meant there were open voids for a period of some four to six weeks.

The missing windows included several on a raised first floor area, which created openings at just above floor level. The worker fell through one of the missing windows in this area while attempting to connect a temporary electricity supply, losing his balance and plunging eight metres onto the concrete floor of a basement below. The court was told the non-guarding of the windows posed a clear danger and that it put multiple Habitat Construction employees and sub-contractors at unnecessary risk because any one of them could have fallen in a similar manner.

Habitat Construction LLP, of Southwark Street, London, SE1, was fined £110,000 and ordered to pay £16,620 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Toby Webb commented:

“This was an entirely preventable fall that left an employee with permanent, life-changing injuries.

“We found a catalogue of working-at-height risks throughout the site, including the use of simple netting as edge protection to a deep excavation and the removal of windows without installing appropriate protection.

“The unguarded windows posed a clear and extremely serious risk, not only for this unfortunate worker but for others at the site who worked near what were effectively open voids.

“Sub-contractors were also placed in danger because there was nothing to stop equipment or debris from falling from the window spaces.

“The onus was on Habitat Construction to ensure appropriate safety measures were in place, but the company clearly failed its legal responsibilities in this regard.”

Further information on working safely at height can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/falls

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 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.”

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