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UK – Firm fined half a million following contractor death

08 October 2012

A construction firm in North Wales was fined more than £500,000 for breaching health and safety regulations following the death of a sub-contracted worker who fell through a hole in a roof at a construction site in Bangor. 

The building contractor was last week ordered to pay a total of £548,000.

21-year old Thomas Whitmarsh was employed by a roofing contractor working for principal contractor, Watkin Jones & Son Ltd, on the roof of a shopping centre in May 2007. He fell nearly six metres through an opening in the roof, sustaining serious head injuries.

Although he made a gradual recovery, he died of meningitis in December 2009 following the brain injury which exposed him to a higher degree of infection.

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 and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Watkin Jones & Son Ltd for failing to ensure Mr Whitmarsh's safety while at work.

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

The company was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £450,000 and ordered to pay an additional £98,000 in costs.

“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,” said HSE inspector Chris Wilcox.

“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.”

The HSE said that falls from height remain one of the most common causes of fatalities and major injuries in the construction sector. 49 workers lost their lives on construction sites in the UK in 2011/12, with falls from height being a major cause. 

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