Company fined £10,000 after worker punctured lung in fall

A NORTH-East firm has been fined £10,000 after a worker fell from scaffolding, puncturing a lung.

Charles Howie, who works for Aberdeen based Sparks Mechanical Limited, was airlifted to hospital after falling eight feet from a scaffold tower at Fraserburgh’s Iceberg Limited in October 2010.

Mr Howie, who has 30 years experience, was supervising the removal of a ceiling refrigeration unit at the fish processing factory when he fell, puncturing a lung and breaking several ribs.

He was unable to work for five months.

Four of eight bolts securing the 127kg unit had been removed without the support of a forklift, causing the unit to fall, knocking the scaffold and sending Mr Howie to the ground.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that suitable equipment was not in place to secure the unit and that guard rails were not in place on the scaffold.

HSE Inspector John Radcliffe said: “The company’s method of carrying out this type of work appeared to have evolved from custom and practice devised by employees rather than what was actually safe.”

“A safe system of work might have included the use of a forklift truck as a support, but it needed to have been underneath the panel before any bolts were removed. It is also crucial that guardrails are always in place around the working platforms of scaffolds to avoid potential falls, often with catastrophic consequences.”

A forklift driver was allegedly on his tea break when the accident occurred.

Sparks Mechanical Services Ltd admitted breaching section 76 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Mr McDonald, defending, said that throughout its 130 year history, Sparks Mechanical had maintained a exemplary safety record and that safety was “a matter of the highest priority,”

He said: “The firm has made extensive efforts over the last few years to increase safety levels including providing training for employees and carrying out inspections. Every employee has his own health and safety record where his training is recorded.”

“Mr Howie was the senior man on the job and, although injured, he has made a full recovery.”

Peterhead Sheriff Court heard than Mr Howie suffers from slight nerve damage but that doctors expect this to fade with time. More than 4,000 employees fell from heights while working in 2009/10, with 38 falls proving fatal.