Health & Safety Manager Prosecuted

A health and safety manager who suffered serious burns when a can of solvent exploded has received a suspended prison sentence for putting other workers at risk.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Phillip Dutton, 41, was responsible for health and safety at metal distributor, South Essex Stockholders Ltd. On 3 February 2009, he was burning the contents of a skip at the firm’s depot in Vanguard Way, Shoebury in order to compact the waste.

He asked a junior member of staff to fetch a can of surface cleaner so he could pour it into the flames as an accelerant. When he poured the solvent into the fire, it ignited and caused the can to explode and shower him with the substance. He suffered serious burns across his body and spent four months in hospital receiving treatment, including skin grafts.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council environmental health officer commented there was a culture of adding accelerants when burning waste in skips at the site, and Dutton had not identified the risks associated with adding flammable substances to fires. He said: “As health and safety manager, Mr Dutton should have realised the risks associated with adding flammable solvents to a fire. He put other workers at risk by carrying out this action and by allowing this practice to be carried out at the site. Furthermore, our investigation found that there were inadequate procedures in place to ensure that hazardous substances were stored in a safe place.”

Dutton appeared in court on 15 February and pleaded guilty to breaching s7 of the HSWA 1974. He was given a four-month prison sentence, which has been suspended for two years. He was also ordered to pay £5000 towards costs.

In mitigation, Dutton, who now resides in Cyprus, admitted that he had been foolish to add the solvent to the fire. He urged the judge to be lenient with his sentence as he has already suffered significantly from his own mistake.

His employer, South Essex Stockholders Ltd, was found guilty on 9 December of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 19

80-year-old care home resident dies after drinking toilet cleaner

An 80-year-old care home resident died after accidentally drinking toilet cleaner which had been left in his room.

Sheffield Magistrates Court heard how Derek Johnson had been living at the Newfield Care Home for just a month before his death in July 2009.

Mr Johnson, who was registered blind, frail and had symptoms of dementia, was able to drink the chemical, after it was left unattended for several hours in his room. He began vomiting blue liquid and was taken to Northern General Hospital, however he died a few hours later.

The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Palms Row Healthcare Ltd, operators of the care home for failing to properly manage the use of cleaning liquids. An investigation found that the company had no procedures in place to prevent vulnerable people from accessing the dangerous chemicals. Furthermore, trolleys which carried the hazardous substances were left unattended for prolonged periods, which could be accessed by residents.

Mr Johnson’s death led to Palms Row Healthcare being served with three Improvement Notices by the Health and Safety Executive along with the prosecution.

Palms Row Healthcare Ltd was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,4720.02 after admitting breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

An HSE Inspector said:“Mr Johnson’s death was a terribly tragic one, particularly as it could have been easily avoided by simply locking away the chemicals.”

“There was no excuse for Palms Row Healthcare’s failure to protect the vulnerable people in its care. It is imperative that care home owners consider the risks to people they are looking after and manage those risks to prevent incidents like this.”

Mr Johnson’s brother, Ray, who was in court with his daughter, Liz Smith, said: “The loss of Derek was a huge shock to the family, particularly to me as his brother. Derek was placed in a nursing home for his own safety and yet my very act of trying to keep him safe resulted in his death. I cannot reconcile this feeling and battle with it daily. I am still trying to come to terms with what I see as the untimely death of my big brother.”

“We hope that lessons will be learned from what happened to Derek so that other families do not have to suffer the same heartache and loss that we are still suffering.”

Fire alarm contractor sentenced under Fire Safety Order

In what is thought to be the first case of its kind, a fire system contractor has been convicted under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Christopher Morris, 56, of Llandudno, a former retained firefighter, appeared at Manchester Crown Court yesterday and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 costs.

At Trafford Magistrates Court, Mr Morris pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to maintain a fire detection and alarm system at a care home in Trafford, Greater Manchester, and failing to inform the owners of the deficiencies in the system.

Magistrates heard that enforcement officers commissioned a specialist examination of the fire alarm panel after a fire at the care home. Among the deficiencies found were:

A blown fuse overridden with a piece of wire
An electronic component suspended between two terminal bocks instead of being attached to the circuit board
An alarm silence/fault warning buzzer missing from the circuit board
The fault warning light on the front face of the panel had been almost covered by paint

According to the prosecution, Christopher Morris, an electrician who had taken over the maintenance of the system had issued several annual certificates of worthiness to the care home owner.

A Deputy county fire officer said: “Whilst many owners have been prosecuted under the Fire Safety Order, this may be the first time a fire and rescue authority has prosecuted someone contracted by the owner of a property to maintain a fire alarm. Taking on such a contract extends the requirements of the Order to the fire alarm engineer. Anyone we find who doesn’t carry out their work to recognised standards is a danger, and we won’t hesitate to take action.”

Woman charged after fatal tower block fire

A 49-year-old woman has been charged with manslaughter after a fire in a high-rise block of flats left two people dead.

Sandra Clarke is to make a virtual court appearance at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court this morning. She has also been charged with arson with intent to endanger life and arson, reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Around 50 firefighters tackled the blaze at Marine Tower, in Deptford.

Crews were called just before 3 pm to the 16-storey block, where a fire had broken out on the top floor.

A total of six people had to be rescued from the 16th floor, of which two were later pronounced dead at the scene. Four others were treated at the scene, and one person was then taken to hospital.

In total, the flats had to be evacuated of thirty five people.

The fire was under control by 4.19 pm.

Poundland pays out £20,000 for fire safety breaches

National retail chain Poundland Ltd has been told to pay around £20,000 in fines and costs for serious fire safety contraventions at one of its stores.

The breaches found were so severe that the outlet, on Commercial Road, Portsmouth, was evacuated immediately until they were fixed.

Investigators visiting the property found that there had been a failure to provide adequate training to a temporary store manager and that fire exits were not kept clear of storage.

The case finally went to Portsmouth Magistrates Court last Friday (4 February).

It took around two years to complete due to “interviews and discussions” taking place with the store manager and the responsible person, the spokesman said.

“This was a complex one as we had to deal with the individual store manager and his solicitor as well as the responsible person,” they said.

There were four breaches of Fire Safety Order made in total, each costing Poundland £3,250.

Pensioner died after being thrown from wheelchair on minibus

An elderly woman died of her injuries after being thrown from a wheelchair while in an Age Concern Westminster minibus, a court heard today.

Olive Sarti, 88, was taken to hospital with a head injury and a broken neck after the incident on Shirland Road, London.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Age Concern Westminster after an investigation that found the minibus driver had performed and emergency stop which resulted in Ms Sarti being hurled from her wheelchair.

The elderly lady was taken to hospital with a broken neck and head injuries. She died two months later on 11 November 2006. The post mortem examination confirmed the injuries sustained on September 20 were a contributing factor to Ms Sarti’s death.

City of London Magistrates’ Court heard that Age Concern Westminster employees had not secured Ms Sarti in her wheelchair, and workers had not been given adequate training by to the charity to ensure wheelchair users were safe while travelling.

Age Concern Westminster of Praed Street, Westminster, London, (pleaded guilty to/ were found guilty of) breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

An HSE Inspector commented
“This fatal incident was foreseeable. There was MHRA guidance easily available to Age Concern Westminster on how to transport wheelchair users safely.

“This organisation fell well below expected standards and Olive Sarti’s death could have been avoided if Age Concern Westminster workers had received adequate training.”

“The seatbelt laws have long been established in British law. Age Concern was aware that people transported in wheelchairs should have these effectively secured and the wheel chair user should have an adequate seatbelt.”

Camden council fined following toddler death

Camden Council has been sentenced after the death of a toddler who was killed when sections of a boundary wall fell onto him.

Two-year-old Saurav Ghai was walking along Southampton Road in Gospel Oak with his childminder on 18 January 2007 when the incident happened.

During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Southwark Crown Court heard how the pair were walking in high winds when a section of the boundary wall from the Wendling Estate collapsed, falling onto them.

They were taken to the Royal Free hospital, but Saurav died shortly after. His childminder suffered injuries.

Camden Council pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing after being charged with breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It is responsible for maintaining the wall that collapsed.

Today, Southwark Crown Court fined the council £72,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £65,000.

After the sentencing, the child’s father Mr Vinay Ghai said:
“We are grateful to the HSE for their efforts and persistence when dealing with the Council, for keeping us involved at different stages of the investigation and being understanding of our frustration at many times during this period.”

“Without HSE’s involvement we would never have found out the proper facts that led to Saurav’s death.

“It has been four years since our son was killed and we hope his short life will at the very least highlight the importance of the care required to make our public places safer.”

An HSE Inspector said:
“Saurav should have been able to walk down the street without his life being put at risk, tragically this wasn’t the case.

“His parents are now facing life without their son because this council simply failed to maintain a wall which was in a poor condition.

“This tragic incident should serve as a reminder to all organisations to keep their building stock safe, including boundary walls.”

Consultation opens on RIDDOR change

The Health and Safety Executive today opened a three-month consultation on proposed changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995.

Changes to RIDDOR were recommended in the Young report on health and safety published last year, which contained a proposal to increase the threshold for reporting workplace injuries to seven days.

Under current rules when an employee is absent from work for more than three days following an incident, employers are required to report the injury to the relevant enforcing authority – either HSE or the local council. The proposed amendment increases this ‘over three day’ period to over seven consecutive days.

The change would align the incident reporting threshold with that for obtaining a ‘fit note’ from a GP for sickness absence, and would ensure that someone who has suffered a reportable injury has had a professional medical assessment.

Serious school fire started in kitchen

A serious blaze that caused a school to close in early January started in a kitchen, fire investigators have found.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service was called to a fire at Holy Redeemer RC School, in Pershore at around 6.45 pm on 14 January.

A total of three pumps were used to put out the fire, which caused “substantial damage” to the staff room and a nearby corridor. There was also heavy smoke damage in classrooms.

The school was unoccupied at the time.

The Station commander said: “The fire was brought under control by around 9.20 pm although crews remained at the school to continue damping down and to undertake fire investigation.”