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£100k fine after platform fall leaves worker with "life-changing" injuries

£100k fine after platform fall leaves worker with

Friday 28 January 2022

£100k fine after platform fall leaves worker with "life-changing" injuries

Friday 28 January 2022

A French construction firm has been fined £100,000 after a worker plummeted 12 metres when a platform failed, suffering "multiple life-changing" injuries.

Sentenced in the Royal Court this afternoon, CNR Construction admitted that safety procedures had not been followed and that the platform Filipe Abreu fell from while working on the Ann Court development on 2 February 2021 was not properly installed.

Mr Abreu said the fall had left "his body mutilated" and "destroyed" his mental health. 

Having suffered a head injury, six broken ribs, internal damage, and further fractures in the fall, he was immediately taken to A&E, and transferred to Southampton Hospital's intensive care unit the following day.

Mr Abreu remained in Southampton until mid-March, having to undergo multiple surgeries including a leg amputation, in addition to kidney dialysis.

His family organised a '#PrayForFilipe' event, asking islanders to join them in saying a prayer for his recovery, and well-wishers also raised more than £7,000 to support them.

Upon Mr Abreu's return to the island, medics concluded that he will "regrettably" continue to live with a "significant disability".

The Health and Safety Inspectorate opened an investigation following the fall, and CRN construction was charged in the Royal Court in December.

Today, the Court heard how the issue arose after the time was changed amid timing and pandemic pressures.

CNR - represented in court by Managing Director Sebastien Gaudin - was subcontracted to the undertake the design, supply and installation of concrete works as part of the construction of flats at Ann Court in St. Helier.

Royal Court.jpg

Pictured: The construction firm was sentenced in the Royal Court today.

On 2 February 2021, employees of CNR along with employees of subcontracted companies were working on a 'working platform' to construct external walls to the fourth floor.

A short platform had been installed as per the design drawings the day before to access the external wall of the buildings, but was discovered it was too short to allow access to the back.

It was decided during the morning to change the platform to a longer platform, which resulted in a significant overhang, with the site foreman for CNR installing two props beneath the platform to support it.

The 'anti-tilt bar' was not checked to see if it had locked into place, and the site manager for CNR did not contact the 'Method Department' - the department overseeing construction plans and strategy - about the change of design as he said the project was running two to three days late and he felt under pressure to recover the lost time.

Site managers and foremen were required to follow the drawings with the expectation that any departure from the drawings must be referred back to the department, though the Court heard that this was not formalised in written policy.

An audit conducted after Mr Abreu's fall found that seven platforms had no design drawings and a number of installed brackets did not match designs.

Interviewed about what happened, the company acknowledged the pandemic had created practical difficulties. As a result, one member of the site management team was typically missing at any one time, the frequency of site visits by the French-based company representatives and health and safety team dropped significantly.

The Equipment Team returned to France before the assembly of the work platforms was completed, and agreed that the untrained site manager could do this instead.

Prosecuting, Advocate Chris Baglin said that CNR had "medium culpability", as they "had all of the systems in place but then failed to follow them to the letter resulting in the accident."

Reflecting on the mental and physical damage caused to victim of the health and safety breach, he recommended the court fine the company £135,000, stating that it "marks the seriousness, the risks undertaken and the harms suffered."

Defending CNR, Advocate Christina Hall described the fine as "manifestly excessive" and that the Crown "have simply got it wrong in this case". She argued instead for a fine between £50,000 to £60,000.

She said this was a "one-off failure" from a company that had no infractions since 1969, and that there "were more than appropriate procedures in place" at the time.

Emphasising that it was an "isolated" incident, she added that it was the "result of the actions of one employee only... who had overall responsibility for the site's health and safety."

She argued that that CNR could not have known that the site manager would not abide by this precaution, and that the only legitimate criticism in this regard was the lack of a written procedure outlining the process.

"...There's not much more this defendant company could have done to ensure the site manager could have complied with a procedure that he knew existed and should have followed," she said.

The other failure she said the company accepted was that the assembly of the anti-tilt bar should have been overseen by two people rather than one, which was the usual procedure.

She said that both the the site foreman and the site manager had since been disciplined with a written warning, that the site manager has been moved to a smaller site where he is being monitored to ensure he follows rules, and that the company has updated its measures to make sure staff follow procedures.

Handing down the Court's sentence, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae - sitting with Jurats Charles Blampied and Jane Ronge - said: "This was a serious breach of the health and safety legislation leading directly to catastrophic injuries suffered by [the victim], which will have a lifelong effect upon him and the total fine that we impose on the defendant company is £100,000."

The firm will also have to pay £5,000 in prosecution costs.

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