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Crown Censure on safety for English Heritage

Date:
14 January 2014

English Heritage has accepted a Crown Censure, equivalent to a criminal prosecution, for safety failings after a 12-year-old boy was badly cut when a glass floor panel broke during a family visit to Yarmouth castle on the Isle of Wight.

The youngster was with his brother and two friends in the 17th century exhibition room when he jumped on a glass viewing panel set into the floor, designed to show stonework beneath.

The panel, which had been in place for many years and walked on by thousands of people over that time, splintered into shards and the boy suffered severe lacerations to his left leg from the jagged glass. He needed surgery twice, but is now recovered, and back at school.

The incident, on 5 September 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which today (14 January) formally administered a Crown Censure of English Heritage for failing to take reasonable steps to protect members of the public from risk. This is the first censure recorded against English Heritage since its inception 30 years ago.

HSE found the glass floor panel broke because it was not made of toughened or laminated glass. English Heritage had not assessed specifically the risk of glass floor panels breaking at any of its properties since it was created as a body in 1984 and given responsibility for around 400 historical sites, although there had been regular visual inspections of the glass panels which would have identified any obvious damage.

HSE’s investigation showed two of the young boys had jumped on the panel before the 12-year-old said he would also do so to prove it would not break. Moments later his father was raising the alarm while the mother of the boy’s two friends gave him first aid until paramedics arrived.

After the incident, English Heritage took immediate action to cover all similar glass floor panels whose strength could not be determined easily, or cordoned off the panel area, and used warning signs to alert the public. It also identified and recorded the location of glass floor panels and low-level glass wall panels in all its properties and ensured they were safe.

Tracey Wahdan, Historic Properties Director at English Heritage, attended the Crown Censure meeting on 14 January at the HSE premises in Basingstoke, and accepted the findings and the Censure, thus formally acknowledging there were health and safety failings.

English Heritage cannot face prosecution from HSE in the same way as non-Government bodies. Crown Censures are agreed procedures applicable to Crown employers instead of HSE criminal proceedings.

Stephen Williams, the Head of Southern Division for HSE, who chaired the Crown Censure meeting, said:

“Our investigation into the details of this young boy’s injuries at Yarmouth Castle found that the failings by the English Heritage were serious enough to warrant this course of action, and, in other circumstances, prosecution.

“The evidence brought to light by the HSE investigation would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of English Heritage in criminal courts. This Crown Censure is the maximum enforcement action that HSE can take and should serve to illustrate how seriously we take the failings we identified.”

Mike Wilcock, HSE’s Head of Operations in the South East added:

“This was an absence of any proper identification and assessment of the risks posed by glass floor panels to visitors and members of the public, coupled with a failure to install the correct type of glass such as toughened or laminated glass.

“It was completely foreseeable that a tourist site attracting school groups could lead to children walking or jumping on glass floor panels – that is just the nature of children. Indeed the same thing could have happened to any adult who might have slipped or fallen heavily on one of these panels.”

The Crown Censure proceedings relate to English Heritage’s discharge of its duties as an employer, under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Notes to Editors:

  1.  A Crown Censure is the maximum sanction for a government body that HSE can bring. There is no financial penalty associated with Crown Censure, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.  More information can be found here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/enforcementguide/investigation/approving-enforcement.htm
  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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