Receptionist's roof fall puts dental firm in court
The operator of a Sheffield dental practice has been fined for safety failings after a receptionist fell more than three metres through a roof light while spending her lunch break on the flat roof of the surgery.
The woman, then 40, went on to the roof of a single-storey extension at the Firvale Dental Practice, operated by Integrated Dental Holdings, with a colleague at lunchtime.
During a two-week trial, Sheffield Crown Court heard the woman sat on the domed roof light, not realising how fragile it was. The plastic of the roof light gave way and she fell to the floor injuring her back, shoulder, knee and neck and was hospitalised. The jury heard that at least five other workers had used the roof, and were at risk of falling from the roof edge or through the roof lights.
The prosecution against Integrated Dental Holdings Ltd, of Bolton, Lancashire, was brought after a detailed investigation into the incident, on 25 March 2009, by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The court heard the flat roof of the surgery, based in Blyde Road, was easily reached using a door on the first floor of the main building. Although the door was locked, the key was left hanging nearby.
Some four years earlier, in a risk assessment by its own health and safety consultant, the practice had been warned the roof lights were fragile and that no protection was in place to prevent falls from the open roof edges. The owner had also failed to act on advice to remove the keys to the roof access door and to post 'no entry' signs.
Integrated Dental Holdings of Sunset Business Park in Kearsley, Bolton, a leading dental group in the UK, was found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £18,500 with costs of £71,632.79.
HSE Inspector Mark Welsh said after the hearing:
"Falls from height are the commonest cause of fatal injuries in the workplace and are also responsible for a large percentage of the most serious occupational injuries.
"While many falls take place in manufacturing and construction, the risks can be present in the most unlikely work environments and employers should assess the risks and then take the steps necessary to implement the controls needed to safeguard their employees.
"You don't have to fall from a great height to lose your life. It's wrong that workers like the one in this case suffer serious preventable injuries because simple steps have not been taken to manage obvious workplace risks."
The most common kinds of accident involve slipping or tripping (40%) and falls from height (16%). HSE figures for 2010/11 show there were 38 deaths, 4,327 major injuries and a further 5,867 over-three-day injuries because of a fall from height. More information on preventing falls at work is available at www.hse.gov.uk/falls