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Tracey Graham on the importance of Health & Safety at Work

In Tuesday’s local news, a Blackburn 'builder from hell' was banned and fined £110,000 for major breaches of health and safety legislation.

The Construction boss, Derek Barnes, aged 75, was caught on camera watching one of his workmen balance precariously on an excavator bucket 12 feet above the ground whilst he fitted a window to a home. The photograph has to be seen to be believed. A worried householder had taken the picture after spotting the workman perching dangerously without safety precautions as he worked on a first floor window.

Derek Barnes and his company, Paddle Ltd, of which he is sole director of, were ordered to pay £110,000 in fines and costs following that episode and one other serious incident which left a bricklayer with back and leg injuries. The former millionaire, from Blackburn, was also given a suspended prison sentence and disqualified from being a company director for three years.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) said that Barnes had been watching this particular incident and therefore clearly consenting to the machine being misused. They said that he had shown a ‘blatant disregard’ of safety on his construction sites. Six months earlier at the same construction site a young bricklayer was injured after he fell 12 feet from scaffolding which was poorly constructed and overloaded. There was no evidence it had been erected by a competent person as the law requires and it was found to be in very poor condition and missing vital fall protection measures.

The judge at Swansea Crown Court accused Mr Barnes of having ‘driven a coach and horses’ through health and safety legislation.

His conviction following the latest prosecution came on the back of two previous incidents at a site near Port Talbot, in South Wales, where the firm was building new homes. His company, Paddle Ltd, was fined £56,000 and ordered to pay £11,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on July 19 2013. Barnes himself was sentenced to eight months imprisonment suspended for two years, disqualified from acting as a company director for three years and fined £32,000 with £11,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The cases involving this company are examples of why falls from height remain such a common problem in the construction industry. The HSE is right to ensure that employers are held to account. At Slater and Gordon, we have represented workers who have suffered injuries in similar circumstances, often life threatening. Clearly compensation can only do so much. Every client would far rather not have suffered injury, particularly where such injury often ends their ability to work again.

Read more about our Accidents and Injury at Work Solicitors, Building & Construction Site Accident Claims, and Health & Safety Claims.