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Building contractor told to pay £548k after worker in roof fall dies

October 10th, 2012

A construction contractor has been fined a total of £548,000 following the death of a worker during a building project.

On May 29th 2007, Thomas Whitmarsh, a 21-year-old from Batley in West Yorkshire, was working on the Menai Centre in Bangor in Wales on behalf of Watkin Jones & Sons.

The roofing contractor fell through an unguarded opening on the roof, dropping almost six metres and sustaining serious head injuries.

He was taken to hospital and remained there for several months, where he gradually recovered from the fall, although the injury to his brain he had received made his risk of infection rise significantly.

Mr Whitmarsh died on December 17th 2009 after contracting acute meningitis and a pathologist claimed that the chance that the harm he sustained as a result of the fall contributed to his death was more than 80 per cent.

As a result, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought a prosecution against Watkin Jones & Son, arguing that it had failed to ensure the safety of Mr Whitmarsh while he was working.

Mold Crown Court was told that there had been edge protection around the roof opening but this had been removed before the incident occurred, while the firm had also neglected to implement alternative methods to protect employees and contractors against falling.

This is despite the fact that one of the most common reasons that construction sector workers sustain major injuries at work are because of falls from height.

According to the HSE, 49 people died on construction sites across the UK during 2011 to 2012, with falling from height representing a significant cause of death.

Building firms must therefore organise and plan work to minimise the risk of this type of accident, as well as hire competent labourers, use the right pieces of equipment and ensure any walkways on site do not contain any obstructions.

“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,” HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said.

“Poor management of risk in this industry is unacceptable and HSE will take strong action when necessary,” he added.

Watkin Jones & Sons must pay a fine of £450,000 with costs of £98,000.

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