Watkin Jones fined £450,000 over death fall

The North Wales building contractor was ordered on Thursday at Mold Crown Court to pay a significant fine and costs after a worker fell through a roof while working on the construction of the Menai Centre in Bangor.

Thomas Whitmarsh, 21, of Batley in West Yorkshire, was employed by a roofing contractor working for principal contractor, Watkin Jones & Son Ltd, on the roof of the shopping centre on 29 May 2007. He fell nearly six metres through an unguarded opening in the roof to the floor below, sustaining serious head injuries.

He spent several months in hospital and was making a gradual recovery. However, the brain injury Whitmarsh suffered exposed him to a much higher degree of infection. He contracted acute meningitis and died on 17 December 2009.

Evidence presented to Mold Crown Court included a pathologist's findings which suggested that there was more than an 80% chance that the injuries from the fall contributed to his death.

The Health & Safety Executive prosecuted Watkin Jones & Son Ltd for failing to ensure Whitmarsh's safety while at work.

The court was told that edge protection around the opening in the roof had been removed prior to the incident, and the company had failed to provide an alternative means to protect against falls.

Watkin Jones, based at Llandygai Industrial Estate in Bangor, was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £450,000 and ordered to pay £98,000 in costs.

However, the contractor issued a statement after the hearing suggesting it could appeal against the court's decision. A representative from Watkin Jones commented: "Watkin Jones & Son Ltd is a company which is committed to and prioritises the safety and wellbeing of its staff and of those who come into contact with its business. We invest substantially every year in training and safety, which we consider to be a key and integral part of our activities.

"We are dissappointed with the decision of the court and we are currently considering our position.''

Also responding to the decision, HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said: "Poor co-ordination between the principal and the roofing contractors on this particular part of the site led to the edge protection being removed from around the roof opening without alternative safeguards in place.

"Falls from height are an alarmingly common cause of death and serious injury in construction. All too often straightforward practical precautions are not considered and workers are put needlessly at risk. Poor management of risk in this industry is unacceptable and HSE will take strong action when necessary.

"This tragic case should remind all contractors that work at height must be managed effectively and adequate safeguards should be in place to prevent falls."

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