Need to cover floor openings not communicated to workmen

Renfrewshire Council has been fined after an elderly tenant fell 4ft through an access opening in the hallway of her home which had been left uncovered in February 2010.

Margaret O’Donnell, 77, suffered a fracture in the bone at the top of the arm and a undisplaced crack in the thigh bone in the fall whilst a new central heating boiler was being installed at her flat.

Paisley Sheriff Court heard (4 June) the boiler installation is normally completed in one day and involves a hatch cut in the floorboards to allow access to pipe work and cabling.

Before work starts, tenants are given an information sheet to read and sign, which indicates the extent of works involved. However, it fails to mention that a hole may be made in the floorboards of the property.

The court was told that during the installation, Mrs O’Donnell was told to stay in her living room as the floorboards in the hallway were being lifted. A joiner cut a hole in the floorboards outside the living room door and left the premises without covering the opening

A co-worker heard Mrs O’Donnell shouting and found she had fallen into the hatch. Several hours after the fall her family visited and were advised by a worker of the incident and that Mrs O’Donnell’s shoulder was sore. She was taken to hospital and discharged that day but returned five days later complaining of pain.

HSE found that Renfrewshire Council failed to take appropriate measures to prevent people falling into openings in the floor and that employees were not provided with covers or made aware of the importance of using one.

Risk assessment not backed up by action

Renfrewshire Council, of Renfrewshire House, Cotton Street, Paisley, was fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Russell Berry, said:

“This incident was both entirely foreseeable and easily preventable. Renfrewshire Council’s own risk assessment stated that all open areas of flooring should be covered indicating it was well aware of the risk from an open access hole.

However, they did not provide information to workers about the need for covers or ensure covers were used by their employees to protect tenants during the work.

It was evident that significant risks of injury were present during the installation work and as Margaret O’Donnell remained in the flat during the work, the risk of personal injury was even greater. Simple measures such as a temporary plywood cover would have eliminated the risks and prevented this incident.”

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