BT Fined £660,000 For Health & Safety Offences Following Injuries To Two CWU Members In Falls From Height at Automatic Telephone Exchange

BT have been Fined £600,000 plus £60,000 Costs at Teesside Crown Court, in Middlesbrough, for Health and Safety breaches after two members fell from step ladders on the same day, working on the same job, one after the other.

PicThe victims sustained several serious head and back injuries, including multiple fractures of the skull and spine. The accidents occurred  at BT’s Darlington Automatic Telephone Exchange (ATE) on 1 April 2010. The trial took place last Friday 27 May 2016.

The  Communication Workers Union lawyers have successfully settled personal injury claims for damages on the two members behalf.

CWU's National Health and Safety Officer Dave Joyce, commenting after the court case said:

"The tragedy of this case is that two members have suffered life changing physical and psychological injuries which will stay with them and has affected their lives significantly."

The accidents occurred after the two British Telecommunications (BT) Open Reach engineers had been given a job at BT’s Darlington ATE.

One of the engineers was installing a cable through a hole on the first floor along a ceiling level cable tray to the Main Distribution Frame (MDF) on the ground floor. In order to carry out this work he was working on a stepladder in amongst the lighting system. He felt a pain in his right arm, believed to be a 240 volt electric shock, and as a result fell from the step ladder. He was taken to hospital with head and back injuries.

The job was not stopped and the accident was not properly investigated, the HSE subsequently discovered, and later that day the work was allowed to continue.

A second engineer continued with the work from a different ladder. However he too fell to the ground and was taken to hospital with serious skull and back injuries. Both Engineers received long term debilitating injuries.

PicDave Joyce commented further:

"I'm pleased to say that after these accidents, BT worked with the CWU and promptly initiated a comprehensive national programme of checks of lighting systems in every Telephone Exchange and where needed, the fittings were changed over to plastic construction and PIR (Sensor) activated lighting was installed."

"There was also a programme of checking that every Engineer was trained in safe Ladder use and working at height and those that weren't were given the appropriate training before being allowed to undertake such work."

A year after the accident, the first engineer returned to work for BT. However he had lost his sense of smell and taste and required physiotherapy for a number of years.

The second engineer received serious multiple fractures of the skull and spine, his sense of smell and taste had been affected, he was blinded in one eye, and has long term memory problems.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into both accidents found that the work had not been properly risk assessed or planned, despite workers being exposed to such serious risks as working at height close to an electrical system. Serious failings were also found within the electrical lighting system in that area, where workers were exposed to live metal parts, some at 240 volts. The system was poorly constructed and had not been properly maintained or tested.

The HSE found that it was most likely that both engineers received 240 volt electric shocks which threw them from the ladders.

The HSE concluded that Work at height and working close to electrical systems needs to be properly assessed and planned so that adequate controls can be put in place. 

This duty rests firmly with the employer. These life changing incidents could have been avoided if BT had provided safe systems of work and ensured that the electrical systems were properly constructed, maintained and tested. Had they done this, these accidents would have been prevented from happening.

British Telecommunication PLC pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £60,000.

Dave Joyce issued the following statement after the court case:

"It is important that all employers take Health and Safety seriously and ensure that risks in the workplace are effectively controlled and managed. British Telecom were prosecuted because of the serious nature of the injuries to our members and serious breaches of Health and Safety legal requirements." 

"This is damning example of what can happen when managers fail to manage and monitor the health and safety of the workforce through careful attention to law and the Companies own health and safety standards and rules."

Dave Concluded:

"It's important to be proactive about health and safety and that didn't happen in this case. All accidents can be avoided if the risks are properly assessed and managed." 

In this case there was a failure to comply with the Companies HSAW Act general duty to provide a safe place and safe system of work and when members are working at height and working around mains electricity. Employers and those in control of the activity must make sure work is properly planned and supervised, the right type of equipment is used and the risks assessed before starting."

Source: CWU / Dave Joyce

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