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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors Part 4: chainsaws and children


Chainsaw injuries

Gilbert Bradfield, a tree surgeon, and three casual workers were engaged to fell a tree which had become unstable. He climbed four to five metres up the tree on a ladder to cut through the top third of the tree with a chainsaw. As the top of the tree was cut, it swung around and knocked Bradfield down. He fell, with the chainsaw still running, and landed on a colleague who was footing the ladder. The colleague suffered severe lacerations, a dislocated shoulder, a punctured lung and other internal injuries. No personal protective equipment was being worn by any of the men operating chainsaws and no equipment for working at height was being used. Bradfield and the other workers had no certificates of competence.

Tree worker struck by branch: serious head injuries

In November 2015 Perry Regan climbed six metres up a ladder and cut branches from a tree, using a chainsaw. A large branch fell from the tree and struck am employee on the head. The worker suffered serious head injuries. His injuries included a fractured skull and the loss of an eye. He was placed in an induced coma. Perry Regan was not competent or qualified to carry out, manage or supervise the work. He was using a chainsaw without being qualified. The work was not properly planned to identify risks. No adequate training or instruction was given to workers. No personal protective equipment was made available.


Electric gate death

In July 2010 Karolina Golabek was playing near electric sliding gates outside flats near her home in Bridgend, South Wales. The gates automatically closed after a car passed through. The child’s body was found in the gap between the gates and a post. She suffered fatal crushing injuries. The closing force of the gate was 220 kg and did not meet European and British safety standards. There were dangers with the gate structure which left space for people to get trapped. There were insufficient and incorrectly set safety features to detect a person in the area which would prevent the gate closing automatically. John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd had fitted a new electric motor to the gate, which was put back into use despite the fact that there were obvious trapping points. The company had also failed to properly test that the gate would close when it met an obstruction. Tremorfa Ltd was contracted for the maintenance of the gate. It did not carry out vital safety checks including closing force measurements.

National Grid death from drowning

In April 2014 Robbie Williamson, aged 11, and two of his friends, were crossing the Leeds and Liverpool canal using a pipeline. Williamson fell from the pipeline into the canal below. He died from drowning and a head injury. National Grid Gas plc had failed to properly protect the exposed pipeline from the risk of injury from falls. The boys were able to climb onto the pipe from a ramp. The company had a procedure for inspecting this type of above ground pipe crossing and requirements for providing measures to prevent access onto these structures. The company’s records incorrectly showed that the pipe was buried rather than exposed. The crossing had not been subject to any inspections and had no access prevention measures fitted. Maintenance work had been carried out on the pipe but records had not been updated. It is typical for pipe crossings to have steel fans or similar measures fitted to prevent access. These measures were fitted after the incident following the issue of an improvement notice. National Grid Gas plc was fined £2 million.

Sodium hydroxide burns at leisure centre

In February 2012 a two year old boy’s father took him to the leisure centre for his weekly swimming lesson. The boy slipped and fell onto a recently cleaned drain cover. The drain had been cleaned with sodium hydroxide. This caused full skin thickness burns to his buttocks and the back of his right leg. He was hospitalised for 10 days and received a skin graft. Leisure Connection Ltd had failed to put a robust system of work in place for cleaning the drain. That system should not only have included clear instructions on how the drains should be cleaned, but also should have established whose responsibility it was to clean them. The company had also failed to properly assess its use of chemicals and to provide proper training on the use of those chemicals. The leisure centre management team had been unaware of the presence of sodium hydroxide.

Death of child from falling fireplace

Kristian Childs, a stonemason trading as KD Childs Stonework of Luton, was contracted to install stone fireplaces in new houses in Towcester. In October 2005 the mantel from the fireplace, which weighed 47kg, came away from a wall without warning and fell onto a four-year old boy, causing fatal injuries. Childs had secured the mantel with mortar instead of using mechanical fixings. He was aware of the need to ensure that fireplaces were properly secured after two others which he had fitted were found to be insecure. The Head of Operations for the HSE’s Midlands construction division commented that every stone used in a fireplace must have a mechanical fixing, for example a steel bracket and screws, to hold them together and against the wall. A few small patches of mortar are not acceptable because they cannot guarantee a secure bond.

Child seriously injured on construction site

In April 2009 an eight-year old boy was playing with friends on a construction site near Paisley. The construction work was nearing completion. BDW Trading Ltd had sold some of the houses, and families were living in them while work continued on the remaining homes. The boy and his family were living in one of the homes. The boy and his friends entered an unsecured storage area. A number of roof trusses fell onto him, trapping him and causing serious injuries. The construction site was only partially fenced. As a result, there was a large gap at the side and rear. This meant that the site could easily be accessed by the public, including children. The roof trusses had been stacked upright. This meant that they were unstable and more likely to fall over. When an HSE inspector visited the site, BDW was not aware that a child had been injured. The inspector served an improvement notice, requiring the company to improve site fencing to prevent further unauthorised access.

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