A local authority has been hit with a £20,000 fine after an elderly woman was hurt in a fall accident at her council home.
Workers from Renfrewshire Council had been installing a new central heating boiler at Margaret O'Donnell's flat in Paisley in February 2010, which involved cutting a hatch in the floorboards in order to access the cabling and pipe work.
The 77-year-old had been advised of what work was to be carried out at her home, although she was not informed that the installation team would be placing a hole in the floorboards.
At one stage during the work, a joiner who had cut a hole just outside Mrs O'Donnell's living room door went to another part of the building to work on a different task. The occupant of the flat therefore fell into the hatch when she emerged from the room and the installation team had to help her get out.
Mrs O'Donnell told the men that she was OK, and the council employees opted not to offer any first aid or advise her to seek medical assistance. Furthermore, they failed to report the accident until several days later.
The accident only came to light after members of Mrs O'Donnell's family visited the flat and were told about her fall. It was later found she had sustained broken bones in an arm and leg.
HSE Accident Investigation
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) subsequently carried out a workplace accident investigation into the circumstances that led to Mrs O'Donnell falling down the hole.
Renfrewshire Council was criticised for failing to ensure appropriate measures for preventing people from falling into open hatches were put in place.
The HSE also said the authority had taken no steps to ensure that workers were equipped with covers or made aware of why using them was so important.
Renfrewshire Council therefore pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at Paisley Sheriff Court. The authority was hit with a fine of £20,000 for the violation.
Accident 'Entirely Foreseeable'
Speaking after the sentencing, the HSE said the accident had been "entirely foreseeable" and could therefore have been prevented easily.
Russell Berry, an inspector at the HSE said, "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."
Mr Berry pointed out that a risk assessment carried out by Renfrewshire Council had indicated that all open areas of flooring needed to be covered. This, he said, showed that it was "well aware" of the risks an open access hole in a flat could cause.
However, he stated that information on the need for covers was not provided to employees, while the council had taken no steps to ensure workers used covers to protect tenants while the boiler installation was underway.
Sadly, Mrs O'Donnell has since died of unrelated causes.
By Francesca Witney