Ecology business in court over worker’s broken back

Hospital in Essex

An ecology consultancy has been fined for safety failings after an employee broke her back in a fall at a former psychiatric hospital site in Essex.

The 34-year-old ecologist, who doesn’t wish to be named, was surveying the loft space for wildlife in one of the derelict buildings at Severalls Hospital in Colchester on 12 May 2014 when she fell nearly four metres through a loft hatch to a concrete floor.

She sustained a fractured vertebra at the base of her back and was in Colchester general hospital for seven days. She needed to wear a back brace for three months to prevent bending or twisting between her  neck and waist and was unable to work for several weeks.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today (10 March) prosecuted DF Clark Bionomique Ltd after an investigation found that the company, which had been employed to carry out a survey while part of the site was being sold for redevelopment, hadn’t assessed the work to be undertaken properly.

Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that although the company was aware that the hospital buildings had not been used or maintained since the site closed in 1997, the assessment was too general and failed to identify the risks of falling through what was likely to be fragile and rotting timberwork in the disused loft spaces.

DF Clark Bionomique Ltd, of Andrews Farm, Burnham Road, Althorne, Essex, was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,138.50 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

After the case, HSE Inspector Edward Crick said:

“The failure of DF Clark Bionomique Ltd to properly plan this wildlife survey has resulted in a significant injury to one of its employees. This is a company which undertakes surveys in locations ranging from a tree, to something considerably more complex such as the one being undertaken at the old Severalls hospital site.

“A ‘one size fits all’ approach is obviously not suitable and the company’s tick-box approach to risk assessment failed to protect this worker.

“Falling through fragile surfaces is a well-known risk, particularly in the construction industry, and any work at height needs to be properly assessed and managed, including sometimes seeing if the work needed can be done in a way that avoids any work at height at all.”

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