Building firm boss prosecuted for safety breaches

Simon Donohue

A Blackburn building firm and its sole director have been ordered to pay £110,000 in fines and costs following two serious incidents at a new-build development in South Wales.

In the first incident, on 9 August 2011, self-employed bricklayer Daniel King, then aged 22, of Loughor, West Wales, injured his back and left foot when he fell almost four metres from poorly constructed scaffolding that was overloaded and posed a clear fall risk.

Six months later, in March 2012, a contractor was spotted working at height in the elevated bucket of an excavator in clear view of the company director.

Both incidents occurred at the same plot within a site at Cae Canol, Baglan, near Port Talbot, where Blackburn-based Paddle Ltd has been building new homes as part of a phased development over several years.

The company and its director, Derek Hugh Barnes, were prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive identified a blatant disregard for worker safety.

Swansea Crown Court heard that the scaffolding that King fell from was in a very poor condition and was missing vital guard rails, toe boards and other fall protection measures.

HSE inspectors checked the structure three days after the fall, once the bricklayer had reported the incident, and found it was also being used to take loads of bricks and blocks that it was simply not fit to carry.

There was no evidence to suggest that it had been designed, erected and inspected by a competent person – as the law requires. Nor was there evidence that measures had been put in place to reduce the risk of a fall inwards into the building under construction.

In relation to the second incident, the court was told that Derek Barnes was fully aware that a worker for his company was using an excavator bucket to work at height.

The dangerous practice was witnessed by a concerned householder who photographed and reported the activity to HSE.

Barnes was captured watching nearby, and had clearly consented to the machine being misused in this way.

The judge heard that Paddle Ltd has a lengthy history of HSE enforcement action and has been served with a number of Prohibition Notices for unsafe work at height. The company was also prosecuted by HSE in April 2010 at Bridgend Magistrates Court relating to failings at a site in St Athan.

Paddle Ltd, of Old Hall Lane, Pleasington, Blackburn, was fined a total of £56,000 and ordered to pay £11,000 in costs after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 19 July 2013.

Derek Hugh Barnes, of the same address, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment suspended for two years, disqualified from acting as a company director of three years and fined £32,000 with £11,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Phil Nicolle said: "Paddle Ltd and Derek Barnes have, over the years, shown a blatant disregard for health and safety management on their construction sites, as was clearly evident when we investigated the Baglan incidents.

"Worker safety was clearly compromised on both occasions and the failings we identified are textbook examples of why falls from height remain such a common problem in the construction industry.

"Companies and directors have clear duties of care and safety responsibilities, and it is vital they properly assess, manage and supervise all work activity to mitigate risks at all times."

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