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Council fined after elderly woman falls through uncovered hole

Renfrewshire Council has been in court after a 77-year-old woman fell through an access hole, that had been left uncovered in her hallway.

What happened?

Workers were installing a new central heating boiler in Margaret O’Donnell’s flat, when she fell through an uncovered hatch and sustained a fracture to her bone at the top of her arm, and an undisplaced crack in the thigh bone.

The court heard that work of this nature is usually completed within a day, and involves a hatch cut in the floorboards to allow access to pipe work and cabling. Though tenants are given an information sheet to sign indicating the extent of the work, there is no mention that a hole may be cut into the floorboards.

An investigation into the incident found that the hatch was cut into the floorboards outside Mrs O’Donnell’s living room door and, without ensuring it was covered, the joiner had left the premises to complete a different task.

The team later heard shouts from Mrs O’Donnell, who had fallen into the hatch. After being helped out, she claimed she was fine so no first aid or medical assistance was sought by any of the council employees, and they did not report the incident until a few days later.

Some hours later, the 77-year-old’s family was made aware of the incident, and that Mrs O’Donnell’s shoulder was sore. She was taken to hospital and discharged later that day, but returned less than a week later complaining of pain.

Eight days after the incident she was admitted to hospital once again, this time with a speech impairment that was possibly due to a stroke. Additionally, she was referred to physiotherapy because of reduced movement in her arm.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the Council employees had failed to ensure satisfactory measures were in place to prevent falls. Furthermore, no steps had been taken to provide staff with equipment to cover the open hatches, and they were not made aware of the importance of doing so.

What was the outcome?

Renfrewshire Council pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and was fined £20,000.

HSE Inspector, Russell Berry, said:

“This incident was both entirely foreseeable and easily preventable. Renfrewshire
Council’s own risk assessment stated that all open areas of flooring
should be covered indicating it was well aware of the
risk from an open access hole.

“However, they did not provide information to workers about the need for covers or
ensure covers were used by their employees to protect tenants during the work.

“It was evident that significant risks of injury were present during the installation
work and as Margaret O’Donnell remained in the flat during the work, the
risk of personal injury was even greater. Simple measures such as
a temporary plywood cover would have eliminated the
risks and prevented this incident.”

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by public negligence, and you would like expert advice, contact Hampson Hughes Solicitors today on 0800 888 6888 or email claims@hampsonhughes.com

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