Construction firm ordered to pay almost £130,000 after health and safety prosecution

hseA Southwark-based construction business has been ordered to pay almost £130,000 in costs and fines after it pleaded guilty to serious health and safety breaches on a work site led to life-threatening injuries to one of its workers.

Habitat Construction LLP, a firm that specialises in construction work, was heavily fined and ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs by the Southwark Crown Court after a 38-year-old worker suffered damage to his spinal cord in the accident in July 2011.

The worker – who does not wish to be named for personal reasons – was part of a team of employees working on transforming two former Victorian hostels into four single residences. During the course of the work the windows had to be removed from the buildings and, as the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) later found, this work was carried out in a haphazard and uncontrolled manner, with no controls or guards being put in place to prevent people from falling through the open apertures. This meant – in some cases – that these openings were unguarded for a period of four to six weeks.

On 1 July 2011, the worker was attempting to connect a power supply when he stumbled backwards and fell through one of areas where a window was missing. This led to the worker falling approximately 25 feet to a concrete floor below, suffering severe damage to his spinal cord. This means that the worker is no longer able to walk and has  had to adjust to life in a wheelchair, as well as experiencing significant emotional trauma.

The Health and Safety Executive was notified of the accident and sought to investigate. The HSE’s investigation found that there had been several breaches of health and safety by Habitat Construction LLP, including a clear failure to guard the missing windows to prevent injury to employees or sub-contractors. The HSE therefore recommended that the partnership be prosecuted for failure to comply with UK health and safety laws.

The case came to the Southwark Crown Court on 22 May 2014, with Habitat Construction LLP charged with a single breach of s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The business pleaded guilty to this charge and was fined £110,000, as well as being ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs of £16,620.

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the court case: “Businesses have obligations under health and safety legislation to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of its employees at work. The HSE and the Southwark Crown Court clearly felt in this instance that the business had not taken these reasonable steps.”