Lift shaft injury blamed on low guard rail


Whenever there is a construction safety court case, attention is thrown on the contractors concerned, and whether they obeyed the letter of the law precisely. If they did not, then regardless of how marginal the offence was, they can expect to be penalised and blamed. This is a prime example.

The principal contractor for an extension to the Rosie Maternity Hospital, a division of the huge Addenbrooke’s hospital complex in Cambridge, was Farrans (Construction) Ltd of Belfast.

Lift engineer Terry Moore (51) from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, was very experienced in his trade. On 29th March 2012 he was on the top floor of the partly-built new 3-storey annex, getting the lift shaft ready for the lift to be installed. As he prepared for the bringing up of more equipment from below, he tumbled down the lift shaft. His fall was approximately 9 metres. Another nearby sub-contractor found him.

Mr Moore was lucky to survive but he had terrible injuries, including broken bones in the shoulder, spine, pelvis and left foot. Thankfully he was able to go back to work, but only many months later.

Was it just an unlucky accident involving human error, or was there contributory negligence? The key element that the HSE focused on from their investigation was that the guard rails that were in place to protect the open lift shaft entrance hole were slightly short of the legal minimum height.

Cause and effect not proven

To quote the HSE account of the incident, “although it could not be proven that the height discrepancy was a causative factor in the fall, it was a serious safety failing.” The facts of the case are that the rails were measured at 908mm above the open edge, when they should have been at least 950mm. That requirement was created by the Work at Height Regulations 2005, which increased the height for new railings from the pre-existing 910mm. Interestingly pre-existing installations were allowed to remain at the old level, so HSE must have felt that it was not a serious risk. It is hard to imagine that they would have prosecuted this contractor for a 2mm infringement, as per the old rule.

As it was, at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court Farrans (Construction) Ltd received a fine of £10,000 and had to pay £5,225 in costs.

It may seem harsh to any hard-pressed manager, but the fact is that only total adherence to the regulations will do if you are to avoid the danger of court cases and the time and distraction that may result if an unlucky and regrettable accident should happen. The solution is to engage the reasonable services of specialist building safety contractors like McCormack Benson Health & Safety, who will get really hands-on: they can do the measurements, check the detail and make sure wherever possible that you are fully compliant with all the latest regulations.