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Contractor hit with £548,000 fine for worker death

Watkin Jones & Son has been ordered to pay a £450,000 fine and £98,000 in costs after a worker employed by a sub-contractor to the firm fell through an unguarded opening in the roof of the Menai Centre in Bangor, Wales.

Thomas Whitmarsh, 21, fell about six metres and sustained serious injury to his head on 29 May 2007. He appeared to be recovering, but his brain injury exposed him to infection and he died of acute meningitis on 17 December 2009.

Mold Crown Court heard that there was more than an 80 per cent chance the fall contributed to his death. Falls from height are one of the most common causes of fatalities and major industries in construction.

Watkin Jones & Son Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for failing to ensure Mr Whitmarsh’s safety at work. The court heard yesterday that edge protection around the opening had been removed, with no alternative means of protection being installed.

HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said: “Poor co-ordination between the principal and the roofing contractors on this particular part of the site led to the edge protection being removed from around the roof opening without alternative safeguards in place.

“Falls from height are an alarmingly common cause of death and serious injury in construction. All too often straightforward practical precautions are not considered and workers are put needlessly at risk. Poor management of risk in this industry is unacceptable and HSE will take strong action when necessary.

“This tragic case should remind all contractors that work at height must be managed effectively and adequate safeguards should be in place to prevent falls.” 

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