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Newcastle firm faces spinal injury claim

Person holding their back in pain
14th May 2014

A Tyneside construction firm could face a personal injury claim after an employee suffered a spinal injury after falling from unsafe scaffolding.

Kevin Clark's injury happened when he was working for Ian Allan Building Contractors on a job in County Durham. Consett magistrates' court heard that Kevin was working on the window of a new building when the platform he was working on became dislodged, resulting in him falling more than four metres to the floor. As well as the spinal injury – several crushed vertebrae – he fractured his left foot and had to spend two weeks in hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to control alterations to the scaffolding – which resulted in unsafe changes being made – and had also failed to check the structure at least once every seven days. For these failings, Ian Allan Building Contractors pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety rules, resulting in a £1,500 fine and an order to pay £1,500 in costs. They could face more penalty outlay if Kevin decides to make a personal injury claim for his pain and inconvenience.

After sentencing, the 54-year-old victim remarked that he "took it for granted" that the scaffolding would be safe and now has steel rods in his spine. He also complains of constant pain, restricted movement and finds it difficulty to walk.

HSE inspector Andrea Robbins comments that she'd "like to stress to all companies and employees who use scaffolding that it should always be constructed to a recognised standard, any alterations should only be made by a competent person and it should be inspected by a competent person on handover and at least every seven days as work progresses".

Fortunately, falls from these kinds of heights are relatively rare, with the HSE recording that there were just 783 incidents involving falls from more than two metres in 2009/2010. However, there were 9,715 occasions where people hurt themselves after falling from lower than two metres, or if the height wasn't recorded.

The HSE also reports that spinal injury is the most common way a person can hurt themselves whilst at work, with 22,121 incidents of back injuries occurring in 2009/2010 out of a total 121,541. Back injuries don't have to happen as a result of falls it's possible that many occurred as a result of lifting or other such exertions.

Reported by Fiona Campbell