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Temporary hoist shaft led to back-breaking fall

16 Apr 14 Two construction firms have been fined a total of £75,000 after a worker broke his back falling 4m through a hole in the first floor of a hotel in Aberdeen.

Scott Massie, then aged 37, was employed by Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Ltd, which had been subcontracted by Aberdeen Fabrication Ltd (A-Fab) to refurbish premises in Market Street.

Peterhead Sheriff Court heard yesterday (15th April) that Mr Massie had been replacing a floorboard over a hole in the first floor, one of several that had been used to hoist materials up to the floors above. But as he manoeuvred the board into position, it fell through the hole followed by Mr Massie himself.

Mr Massie landed on his back, fracturing his spine in several places. No one heard him call out for help and he had to crawl back up to the first floor before colleagues found him.

He suffered eight fractures of the vertebrae, two broken ribs and was in hospital for almost eight weeks. He had to undergo physiotherapy to learn how to walk again and has been diagnosed as having permanent damage to his lower back.

The incident, on 13 October 2009, was investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which only a few weeks earlier had served an improvement notice on A-Fab following a site inspection. HSE had found failings in how work at height was being carried out and given the company time to put specific improvements in place.

HSE’s investigation into Mr Massie’s fall found that the hole was part of a temporary hoist shaft installed on the instruction of the site manager, which consisted of holes in all four floor levels.

Boards placed over the holes when the hoist was not in use was the only measure to prevent a person falling through. Riverside’s supervisor intended that they be put in position by two people and screwed down, but this was not always done and there were no guards around the hole when the hoist was in use.

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HSE identified that A-Fab had failed to sufficiently address the safety issues in the improvement notice and that both companies had failed to take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent persons from falling a distance likely to cause personal injury and, in particular, failed to ensure that holes in the floors were adequately guarded or that other means were in place to prevent persons approaching and falling through said holes.

Aberdeen Fabrication Ltd, of Carden Place, Aberdeen, was fined £45,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Ltd, of Bon-Accord Crescent, Aberdeen, was fined £30,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE principal inspector Isabelle Martin, said: “It was clear there was a risk of a fall through the holes in the floor at this site and had Aberdeen Fabrications Limited and Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Limited taken the action required by HSE inspectors this incident could have been avoided.

“But as a result of the failings of his employer Riverside Construction and the principal contractor Aberdeen Fabrications, Mr Massie has suffered severe injuries from which he is unlikely to ever fully recover.

“Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths, and there is no excuse for employers failing to protect workers who may be at risk from falls from open and unprotected edges, whether in floors or roofs, or any high level.”

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