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York father’s near-death fall lands firm in court

Date:
5 June 2014

A young father of two suffered life-changing injuries after he plunged seven metres through an unsafe fragile roof at a farm in Harrogate, magistrates have been told  (4 June).

His employer, a Tockwith-based agricultural engineering company hired to work on the building, had failed to provide any precautions to protect workers from falls.

The incident, on 4 June 2013, left 22-year-old Daniel Telford with multiple injuries. He broke his neck and suffered shattered vertebrae, broken shoulder blades, several cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, broken arm, fractured pelvis, broken right hip, tendon damage to a foot and both hands, and serious nerve damage.

Mr Telford, of Long Marston, York, whose wife was then pregnant, was in hospital for four weeks and had to use a wheelchair for some three months after being discharged.  He is still unable to return to work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Mr Telford’s employer, Spruce and Hawe Ltd., and its director Michael Spruce, from Wetherby, for serious safety failings.

Harrogate Magistrates were told the firm had been contracted by the farm’s owner to extend one of the buildings, as it had built the original building several years earlier.

Mr Telford was working with Mr Spruce on the roof of the property replacing rooflights when the fragile roof-sheet he was standing on gave way. He fell through and crashed down on the concrete floor below.

HSE found the company, and Mr Spruce as director, had failed to take any steps to prevent falls through the roof.  Measures could have included netting underneath, safe working platforms, or newer ways of working such as from a platform underneath.

HSE served an immediate prohibition notice on the company stopping any further work at height until precautions were taken to protect from falls or to mitigate the dangers.

Spruce and Hawe Ltd, of Blind Lane, Tockwith, York, was fined £12,000 after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Michael Spruce, of Second Avenue, Wetherby, Leeds, was fined £3,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 37 of the same Act in his capacity as a director. Costs of £513 were also imposed.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Julian Franklin said:

“This young man could have been killed by a simple failure to follow well-known systems of work when on a fragile roof. As it is, he sustained severe and multiple injuries that have changed his life.

“A year on, he is struggling to come to terms with the physical and psychological after-effects of this horrendous accident.”

Daniel, now 23, described how the fall had changed his life for ever:

“After I fell, I was lying on the floor in horrendous pain, but because of fluid building up in my throat, I was shouting for someone to put me in the recovery position. If they hadn’t, I know I could have choked to death.

“Later in hospital, I remember my family coming to see me when I was in resuscitation and can still remember how devastated they all were.   “I had a number of operations and lots of different surgery. I’d broken my neck, both shoulder blades, several ribs and had a collapsed lung. When I could get off my back in the hospital bed, it was absolutely agonising.

“I also developed hyposensitive skin from the broken neck which meant that the slightest touch, even water or wind on my skin, was painful. It still is, a year later.

“When I came home in a wheelchair, my self-esteem was totally gone as I couldn’t do anything for myself. I felt like a complete wreck. People had to feed me, give me a drink, pass me something to look at as I just couldn’t move my arms or legs.

“Twelve months later, I am slowly getting better and hope to be able to return to work eventually. I am walking again, although my hip often gives way.  I feel it has been a constant battle – so many routine and normal day to day tasks are still a challenge.”   Mr Franklin, who carried out the HSE investigation, added:

“It is vital for those people controlling work activities to ensure they follow the correct precautions when anyone is working at height.  Relying on standing on the bolts on a fragile roof is criminal, and where we find that sort of behaviour, we will take whatever enforcement or prosecution action we can.

“Workers have the right to return from a day’s work safely and without harm. Employers have a duty of care they must not shirk, or we will take action against them.  Where breaches occur and can be attributed to an individual in charge of an operation, we will take action against that individual as well as the company if the breaches so deserve.”

Information about working at height can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/

Notes to Editors:

Photo shows the height of the roof from which Daniel Telford fell, narrowly escaping death.

  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.”
  3. Section 37 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: “Where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”

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