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Firm sentenced after worker paralysed in fall

Date:
10 June 2014

A Glasgow-based company has been fined for safety failings after a worker was left paralysed from the neck down when he fell around three metres from the top of a gritter.

Colin Shields, 34, of Cumbernauld, was standing on top of a gritter at Inex Works Ltd’s premises in a bid to help his colleagues dislodge compacted grit salt from inside the machine when the incident happened on 28 December 2010.

Airdrie Sheriff Court heard today (10 June) that Mr Shields, a father of two and company secretary at the firm at the date of the incident, suffered irreversible damage to his spine as a result of the fall. He is now paralysed from the neck down, and requires help and assistance with his day to day care.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed a number of significant failures in the company’s management of health and safety.

At the time of the incident the company operated from a yard in Garrell Road, Burnside Industrial Estate, Kilsyth.  When Mr Shields returned to the yard following a gritting job in Blackford, Perthshire, he saw three of his colleagues clearing grit salt from the chute, spreader and gritter box on the gritter vehicle and offered to assist.

Mr Shields climbed the ladder at the back of the vehicle to gain access to the top of the gritter body. As he moved towards the rear of the vehicle to get a pole to help him dislodge the salt, his foot slipped and he fell head first onto the ground.

His fellow workers raised the alarm and he was rushed to hospital but was found to have sustained several fractures of his spine, leaving him paralysed. He remained in hospital until July 2011 and later had surgery to his right arm that has provided him with some limited movement.

A married man with two young daughters, one of whom was born four weeks after the incident, he had been a fit and active individual who enjoyed playing a number of sports and also played guitar in a band.

HSE Inspectors found that Inex Works Ltd had failed to take sufficient measures to prevent falls where work was being carried out at height. The method used by its employees was unsafe as the gritter was not designed with a working platform, walkway or hand rails and Mr Shields was not wearing a harness or restraint to prevent him from falling.

The incident could have been prevented by taking suitable precautions or using alternative means of access such as erecting tower scaffolding to work from.

Inex Works Ltd, of St Vincent Street, Glasgow, was fined £13,500 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.   Following the case, HSE Inspector Hazel Dobb, said:

“Mr Shields could have easily been killed. As it is, he has been left with irreversible injuries and he and his family have obviously been devastated.

“Inex Works Ltd failed to make sure employees were able to work in safety. This incident could have easily been avoided as there were several other ways this work could have been carried out, such as using alternative means of access or use of a harness.

“Tragically, that is a lesson for the company learned too late for Mr Shields.”

For more information about safe working at height log onto the HSE website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/index.htm

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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. In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation.
  3. Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states: “Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.”
  4. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk/

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