News & Views

£155k penalty after steeplejack death

BY Steve Briggs
Health & Safety
BG Orange

A company has been fined a £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 costs after a steeplejack fell 50 metres to his death from an Edwardian chimney in Bolton, and a colleague was left clinging on for his life.

John Alty and another worker were at the top of the disused chimney at Swan Lane Mills in Great Lever on when the scaffolding they were on collapsed.

Alty was pronounced dead at the scene but his colleague survived by clinging to a ladder on the outside of the chimney. Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive following the death.

Angela Alty, the mother of his 19-year-old daughter, Jamie Lea, had recently separated from Alty before his death said that things had been very difficult since his death.

“A big hole has been left in both our lives. Moving on is hard and not one day passes where we don't think about him and what might have been. The way his death happened is difficult to come to terms with. I often sit and wonder what if I had given my marriage another go. Maybe we would have gone away and he wouldn't have been on that chimney,” she added

Manchester's Crown Court heard that Alty's employer, Bailey International, had been hired to carry out repairs to the brickwork on the chimney, and its two employees had been taking down the scaffolding when it gave way.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the company had not used strong enough fixings to attach the scaffolding to the chimney, despite knowing that the brickwork at the top was in a poor condition.

The firm, which employs around 30 people, also failed to check the scaffolding design and to test the fixings before they were used.

The court was told that the scaffolding had been damaged on a previous job, and an engineer had been hired to repair it. But instead of grinding out the joints and welding them back together, the company welded over the weakened joints. The engineering company was fined a further £10K for its part in the tragedy.

HSE Inspector Stuart Kitchingman said that if the work had been properly managed, and carried out to industry standards, then Alty would still be alive.

He added that although the HSE investigation had found that the most likely cause of the scaffolding collapsing was the weak anchor fixings, they had been unable to rule out the poorly repaired joints on the scaffolding as a possible cause of the collapse.

Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 towards the cost of the prosecution at Manchester Crown Court on 28 January 2011. The engineering company, Ken Brogden Ltd, was fined £10,000 with costs of £16,000.

Last year, more than 4,000 employees suffered a major injury as a result of a fall from height at work and 12 were killed.

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