Court case Highlights the need to Consider Elderly Residents

Sheffield Occupational Health and Safety Association (SOHSA) on 2008-09-04 10:00:03

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning companies undertaking gas mains replacement and central heating installations of the serious consequences that can result when safe systems of work are not adopted when working in elderly persons’ properties. The warning follows a serious incident to an 89 year-old Edinburgh woman, who fell down an open hatch in the kitchen floor left unguarded by the gas replacement contractor. Progas Heating Ltd of Denny, Stirlingshire, were fined £5000 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today (Monday July 7, 2008) after pleading guilty to a charge under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Progas Heating Ltd were moving the gas meter from the inside of the property to the outside. This was part of a larger contract for Scotland Gas Networks to renew the gas main and associated services in the whole street, An existing hatch in the floor of the kitchen was opened to allow access beneath the floor for the workmen. The hatch was left open, unguarded and unprotected except for the closed kitchen door while the Progas workmen continued work outside the property. The woman walked into the kitchen to cook her lunch and fell over five feet through the open hatch, which was immediately behind the door, sustaining three fractures to her left ankle. This incident highlighted the dangers associated with working in elderly persons’ properties. HSE Principal Inspector Jim Skilling commented after the case “This is one of four very serious incidents that my Inspectors have investigated in a 12-month period in the east of Scotland. All involved elderly women falling down hatches or holes left exposed and unprotected where a contractor carried out plumbing, heating or gas replacement work in their properties. It is not sensible or acceptable for contractors to assume that simply telling the occupant to remain in one room is sufficient Contractors must take positive steps to prevent any incident by implementing a safe system of work approach where all holes are barriered or covered to ensure the safety of all persons whether occupants or visitors. This was a wholly preventable incident, which has greatly affected the householder, and it could very well have proved fatal.” Only last month Help the Aged produced evidence to show that falls are the leading cause of death for over 75 year-olds. Every year in Scotland, thousands of projects involving gas heating installation and upgrading are carried out. This together with other small contracts inside elderly persons’ properties means there is considerable scope for this type of incident to happen again if contractors do not take positive action on every occasion.

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