Firm fined after worker paralysed in construction site fall

A construction company has been ordered to pay more than £126,000 in fines and costs after a worker was left paralysed from the waist in an eight metre fall.

The 38-year-old man is no longer able to walk or work after damaging his spinal cord in the incident at GrovePark, Southwark, in July 2011 and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Habitat Construction LLP was prosecuted for safety failings following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Southwark Crown Court heard on 22 May that the injured worker was part of a team transforming two former Victorian hostels into four single town houses.

During the work, windows were removed from the buildings at various times but no measures were put in place to prevent a fall through the spaces created, such as boarding or guard rails. In some cases, the spaces were left open for up to six weeks.

The missing windows included several on a raised first floor area, creating openings at just above floor level. The worker fell through one of the missing windows in this area, losing his balance and plunging eight metres onto the concrete floor of a basement below.

The court was told the non-guarding of the windows posed a clear danger, putting multiple Habitat Construction employees and sub-contractors at unnecessary risk.

Habitat Construction LLP, of Southwark Street, London, SE1, was fined £110,000 and ordered to pay £16,620 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

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

“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”.

The case underlines the importance to taking the correct steps to protect the health and safety of employees, sub-contractors and others to avoid preventable accidents.

Employers seeking clarification or guidance on their health and safety responsibilities or facing prosecution can find out more by contacting Palmers’ health and safety specialists Lara Murray and Jeremy Sirrell.