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Painter's life ruined by skylight fall

1 Nov 12 A building company and a decorating firm have been fined after a Birmingham worker suffered multiple injuries when he plummeted more than seven metres through a skylight.

The incident happened on 11 January 2012 when Philip Brown was painting the roof on an industrial unit at Torridge Close, Telford Way, Kettering. He stepped on to a fragile skylight which shattered and he fell through to the concrete floor below.

Mr Brown, 36, of Sheldon, broke several bones on the right hand side of his body, including his leg, hip, pelvis, wrist and elbow. He also sustained head injuries and lacerations to his face. The father-of-five was in hospital for three weeks where he underwent extensive reconstructive surgery. Mr Brown remains bed-bound with his leg is in traction.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and prosecuted principal contractor JBN Builders, and sub-contractors KJ Smith & Sons Painters & Decorators, the painting and decorating firm who hired Mr Brown, for safety breaches.

Corby magistrates were told yesterday (31 October) that HSE found Birmingham-based KJ Smith & Sons failed to properly assess the risks involved in doing the job. As a result it hadn't got a safe system of work in place. No safety nets, skylight covers or safety harnesses were in use to prevent a fall.

JBN Builders, of Northamptonshire, made very little effort to ensure the subcontractor was competent and monitor the work being undertaken. Both companies dangerously underestimated the risk of the fragile skylights in this instance.

KJ Smith & Sons Painters & Decorators Ltd, of Poundley Close, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 4(1)(a) and 9(2)(b) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £4,500 and ordered to pay £1,932 costs.

JBN Builders Ltd, of Hardlands Road, Duston, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc act 1974. The firm was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,932 costs.

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Mr Brown, who lives with his partner, Dee Johnston, and three of his five children, aged eight, five and four, said: "This has turned my life upside down. All of a sudden everyday things that you take for granted can't be done any more. I didn't see my children for the three weeks I was in hospital because I didn't want them to see me in such a mess. When I came home I couldn't pick them up or cuddle them because of my injuries and I miss not being able to do things with them, like play outside. But they've been great - they help me by getting my breakfast in the morning and when I'm having a bad day they cheer me up.

"I would like to be able to go back to painting and decorating as it's all I've ever done since leaving school but at the moment I just don't know what the future holds. I still can't fully bend or extend my arm, and that's no good in my line of work.

"The doctors originally said it would be six to eight months before I was better but I'm still in traction ten months on. I've got an operation coming up to break my leg so they can extend the bone and I've been told it might be another 12 months before it heals to an extent that I can begin to get my life back."

After the hearing HSE inspector Sam Russell said: "Work at height is a high risk activity and steps should have been taken to identify those risks and mitigate against them. KJ Smith & Sons Painters & Decorators Limited failed in that most basic requirement.

"JBN Builders Limited, acting as principal contractor on the site, should have taken steps to ensure the company they employed was competent to undertake the work asked of them and had in place suitable control measures regarding the fragile skylights.

"As a result of failings by both firms, Mr Brown's life has changed irrevocably. He remains bedbound more than ten months after the incident and is unable to fully participate in family life with his partner and five children."

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