Balcony fall accident leads to parish council fine


A church council has been fined £5,000 for safety failings after a worker fell from a church balcony and was paralysed.

The self-employed joiner fell 3 metres from the poorly-guarded balcony of the Church, where he was working in March 2010.

The balcony fall accident led to legal action by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) against a parish council, which is responsible for 3 churches in the area.

Westminster Magistrates' Court heard that the refurbishment of the church's balcony, which started in 2009, involved the installation of adjustable floor and hand rails which would allow conventional 'stepped' church seating that could be adjusted to a flat raised position for other events.

To protect people against falling, the balcony was surrounded by a high barrier. However, claims that the barrier interrupted the transport of site materials led to its removal a few months later in favour of a lower rail.

The replacement rail was around 1 metre high with the floor in its 'stepped' position, but only 20cms above floor level when raised. A temporary higher barrier was to be erected whenever work was due at the higher level.

The court was told that the floor had been raised to allow installation of the new handrail, but that the temporary high barrier had not been erected.

The worker, who declined to be named, leaned on the rail in order to board over a hole close to the balcony's edge. The fixed barrier gave way and the joiner fell 3 metres to the floor. His back, shoulder and 3 ribs were broken and he is now paralysed from the waist down.

HSE inspector Peter Collingwood noted after the hearing that an incident which has had life-changing consequences for the joiner could easily have been prevented.

"Simple higher edge protection that had been in place earlier in the project had been removed and a temporary extra barrier for use when the new floor was in raised position was not put in place."

"This incident shows how important it is for companies to ensure that effective edge protection exists to guard against any potential falls from height."

Admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Church Council of the Parish was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £4,457.60.

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