Contractor fined £110k after worker paralysed in eight-metre fall

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A London construction firm has been fined £110,000 after a worker was paralysed from the waist down following an eight-metre fall.

The 38 year old of Beckenham, south east London, who does not want to be named, was attempting to connect a temporary electricity supply when he lost his balance and plunged through an open void created by the removal of a window.

He damaged his spinal cord and is no longer able to walk or work and has had to overcome major physical and emotional trauma as he adjusts to life in a wheelchair.

Southwark Crown Court heard yesterday how his employer, Habitat Construction LLP, which was transforming two former Victorian hostels into four single houses, removed the buildings’ windows in an ad-hoc and uncontrolled manner.

During the project, which involved demolition, refurbishment and new-build activity, the windows were taken out at various times and for a variety of reasons, according to HSE, but no measures were put in place to prevent a fall through the spaces it created, such as boarding or guard rails. This meant there were open voids for a period of some four to six weeks.

The missing windows included several on a raised first floor area, which created openings at just above floor level.

The court was told the non-guarding of the windows posed a clear danger and that it put multiple Habitat Construction employees and sub-contractors at unnecessary risk because any one of them could have fallen.

Habitat Construction LLP, of Southwark Street, London, pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was ordered to pay £16,620 in addition to the £110,000 fine.  

“This was an entirely preventable fall that left an employee with permanent, life-changing injuries,” said HSE inspector Toby Webb after the hearing.

“We found a catalogue of working-at-height risks throughout the site, including the use of simple netting as edge protection to a deep excavation and the removal of windows without installing appropriate protection.

“The unguarded windows posed a clear and extremely serious risk, not only for this unfortunate worker but for others at the site who worked near what were effectively open voids.

“Sub-contractors were also placed in danger because there was nothing to stop equipment or debris from falling from the window spaces.

“The onus was on Habitat Construction to ensure appropriate safety measures were in place, but the company clearly failed its legal responsibilities in this regard.”



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