Firms sentenced after steeplejack falls to his death

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Firms sentenced after steeplejack falls to his death

4th February 2011

A workplace accident specialist has said the importance of proper safety measures when working at height has been underlined yet again, following a recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution.

Karl Tonks, head of the Employers' Liability department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was commenting on a case in which a steeplejack fell 50 metres to his death from an Edwardian chimney in Bolton, and a colleague was left clinging on for his life. Two companies were subsequently fined a total of £85,000 for breaching safety rules.

"This is yet another tragic example of a fatal accident at work that could so easily have been avoided had his employers simply followed the correct safety procedures," said Karl, a partner with the firm.

The Blackburn man and his colleague were repairing brickwork at the top of a disused chimney at Swan Lane Mills when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. The 40-year-old father-of-one was pronounced dead at the scene while his colleague narrowly escaped with his life by clinging to a ladder on the outside of the chimney.

Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd and Ken Brogden Ltd were both prosecuted by the HSE following the accident. Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court heard that Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd had failed to use adequately strong anchor fixings to attach the scaffolding to the chimney, despite knowing the brickwork was weak. The Macclesfield-based firm, which employs around 30 people, was found to have failed to properly assess the scaffolding design and to test whether the fixings were strong enough before they were used.

The HSE investigation found that Heywood-based Ken Brogden Ltd was contracted to carry out repair work after the scaffolding being used by the two men had been damaged on a previous job. Instead of first repairing the weakened joints and welding them together, the company simply welded over them.

"If both these firms had simply carried out the work they were hired to do in the correct manner, and in accordance with industry standards, this accident would never have happened," said Karl.

The HSE concluded that the most likely cause of the scaffolding collapsing was the weak anchor fixings. They could not however, rule out the poorly repaired joints being a contributing factor towards the man's death as well.

Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd, of Grimshaw Lane in Bollington, admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 towards the cost of the prosecution at Manchester Crown Court on 28 January 2011.

Ken Brogden Ltd, of Manchester Street in Heywood, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £10,000 with costs of £16,000.

"The dangers of working at height are extremely serious and can never be underestimated," said Karl. "Last year alone, more than 4,000 employees suffered a major injury as a result of a fall from height at work and 12 people were killed.

"The dangers of high risk category occupations such as steeplejack work can always be minimised by employers following the necessary safety procedures and providing the training and equipment their staff need to operate safely.

"In this case, the scaffolding and fixings were woefully inadequate and a man lost his life as a result," said Karl. "The devastation caused to families and loved ones of those injured or killed as a result of falls from height is very real. It is therefore crucial lessons are learned so that accidents of this type are prevented from happening again in the future."

How can Fentons help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of accidents in the workplace.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

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