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Barnstaple firm fined after worker suffers broken back

A Barnstaple construction company has been fined after a ground worker suffered injuries including three fractured vertebrae when he stumbled from an excavator and fell down a five metre bank at a construction site in Middle Marwood.

The 65-year-old, who does not want to be named, suffered broken ribs and sternum, lung damage and a head wound that required stitches in the incident at a cottage undergoing renovation on 6 October 2011.

He was in intensive care for three weeks, has yet to make a full recovery and is unlikely to work again.

His employer, G Loosemore and Son Ltd, had been contracted to build a two-storey extension at the rear of a cottage.

The ground worker was engaged in excavation work on land that sloped steeply upwards. An investigation by the HSE found that his excavator was working on a level of ground at approximately roof height with the cottage in order to dig out material to make way for a terrace area and exterior steps leading to upper garden levels.

He needed to change the excavator’s bucket during the work, but as he exited the cab he stumbled. He tried to steady himself by grabbing hold of a handle attached to the lift arm, but it came away in his hand and he fell approximately five metres down a slope and onto the path behind the cottage. He hit his head on a large stone as he fell and was knocked unconscious.

HSE established that there was no edge protection to prevent a fall to the area behind the cottage, and no steps were taken to support the excavation prior to the later installation of a supporting wall. The investigation also identified that there had been several falls of material from the main excavation area before the worker fell. These should have served as a warning, but no action was taken.

G Loosemore & Son Ltd, of Roundswell Business Park, Barnstaple, Devon, was fined at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay £11,210 in costs after pleading guilty to breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Annette Walker said: “In this case, significant harm occurred in respect of a fall from height. G Loosemore & Son Ltd could and should have done more to prevent the fall from the top of the bank, but this was only addressed as a consequence of the incident.

“There were a number of collapses of material prior to the fall that should have prompted the company to take earlier action, but these warnings were ignored. It illustrated there were serious risks, but they were disregarded.

“Today’s prosecution should remind all involved in excavation work, or general work at height, of their legal duties to safely manage activity and provide the necessary protection.”

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