A resident at a block of flats in Blackpool narrowly avoided being seriously injured or killed when the second floor walkway he was standing on collapsed, a court has heard.
Resident Andrew Bleasedale had returned from the shops to his home at Newby Place in Mereside on 29 May 2012 when he felt the balcony move beneath his feet as he turned the key in his front door. He dived into his flat and looked back to see that the walkway had gone.
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd was today (1 August) prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that the company had known the walkways were dangerous for several years, but had failed to act to make them safe.
Preston Crown Court heard that Blackpool Coastal Housing had taken over responsibility for the flats from Blackpool Borough Council in January 2007. The council had previously arranged for a structural engineer to carry out a survey of the walkways after a worker noticed some of the fixings for the handrails had pulled away from the wall.
Further tests were arranged, which identified structural problems with the balconies at Newby Place and two neighbouring blocks of flats, and alerted the council to the need for major repairs.
However, Blackpool Coastal Housing failed to carry out any repairs – despite many of the senior staff who knew about the structural issues transferring to the new organisation, along with relevant files, when it was set up in 2007.
The court was told that the company eventually appointed a structural engineering consultant to design a temporary propping solution for the balconies in September 2008. However, his recommendations were also not implemented.
Instead, in March 2009, temporary scaffolding was erected under some of the balconies on the opposite side to Mr Bleasedale’s flat, although it is unlikely this would have been capable of supporting them if they fell.
Blackpool Coastal Housing eventually started work to replace these balconies in May 2012. During the project, the site manager reported his concerns that all the balconies at Newby Place may be unsafe, but again Blackpool Coastal Housing failed to take any action.
The court also heard that the company misled HSE about its knowledge of the structural flaws that led to the collapse during the investigation into the incident, until documents were recovered from as far back as February 2006.
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd, of Abingdon Street in Blackpool, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £27,821.25 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Afterwards Mr Bleasedale said:
“I made complaints about the condition of the balcony several times before the collapse as it was leaning to the extent that I felt the need to walk near to the wall because of the slope.
“When the balcony fell away from under my feet, a gas pipe also ruptured and I could see gas escaping. I waited in my flat and was later rescued by the emergency services.
“After the collapse, I was put into a guesthouse for several months and stayed in a total of five different rooms, which totally unsettled me. The whole affair completely ruined my summer and my daughter’s 21st birthday.
“Newby Place was a good community. People were friendly with each other and often my neighbours would sit outside their front doors chatting, so it’s a miracle no one was hurt.”
HSE Inspector Michael Mullen said:
“The emergency services had to rescue several people from their properties as a result of the collapse, but it’s incredible no one was hurt. We could easily have been dealing with multiple deaths.
“It’s breath-taking that Blackpool Coastal Housing was prepared to take a prolonged gamble with the safety of its tenants at three blocks of flats. The company fell significantly below minimum legal standards for safety, and made a series of bad decisions in its response to the concerns about the balconies over several years.
“It is almost as if the company felt it could wipe the slate clean when it took over responsibility for managing the flats from the council in 2007, and pretend none of the problems with the properties existed.
“This was a potentially life-threatening incident which could and should have been prevented.”
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.”
HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press.