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British Telecom Fined Over Death Of Engineer

Following the death at work of BT Power construction engineer David Askew, British Telecommunications Plc (BT) has been found guilty of breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and were yesterday fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £196,150. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."

David suffered fatal head injuries after falling from a wooden ladder at London's Canonbury Telephone Exchange on 27 October 2006. Southwark Crown Court heard that David Askew was installing distribution boards and running cabling as part of his work and would have been working at a height of more than four metres. He fell from a nine-step wooden ladder, sustaining a serious head injury and died 18 days later.

Judge Deborah Taylor said the company had not provided appropriate ladders, leading Mr Askew to use a wooden ladder he found on the site.

Staff working at heights had also been given "erroneous advice" in BT's manuals, which did not consider the most up-to-date legislation, she continued.

She said: "This was a significant failing by BT, whose employees regularly work at height." and "In my judgment these failures by BT contributed to Mr Askew's fall," she concluded.

Judge Taylor noted that Mr Askew's widow, Denise, was in court for the sentencing and said: "I take into account the great personal loss to her and rest of the family. He clearly was an exceptional man."

She said the value of the fine "does not attempt to value the life of Mr Askew that was so tragically lost."

BT was prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE investigation found a number of issues including a failure to ensure that work at height was properly planned and that David Askew was not provided with suitable access equipment for the work he was given to do.  Also two wooden ladders found at the scene had not been subject to an annual inspection.

Nicola Maisuria, HSE inspector, said:

"The fact that this incident was entirely avoidable makes Mr Askew's death all the more tragic. The dangers posed by work at height are well known, yet BT failed to create the conditions to ensure this task was carried out safely and the appropriate access equipment was used. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that work at height is properly planned and organised."

CWU National Health, Safety & Environment Officer Dave Joyce said:

"As in all at work fatalities, the victim's grieving family were devastated by the accident and their loss is immeasurable. I agree with the Judge in that no way does this fine reflect their loss and grief."

Dave added: "Whenever we get a fatality, I hope it's the last. The HSE tell us that falls from height remain the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury, accounting for around 40 fatal accidents and nearly 12,000 major injuries at work annually. The lessons need to be learned from these incidents and we need to work together."

Dave concluded by saying:

"Over the past four years the CWU Telecom Executive's Health Safety and Environment Sub Committee has been working with BT to introduce new access equipment and ensure that it is suitable for the work carried out. The Sub Committee will continue to make every effort to work with the company to ensure that all the lessons are learned and actions taken to prevent such a tragedy occurring again."

Source: CWU LTB1127/10



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