Stourport firm admits failing to secure fencing which injured woman

Kidderminster Shuttle: INJURIES: The air ambulance landed in Kidderminster town centre following the incident. INJURIES: The air ambulance landed in Kidderminster town centre following the incident.

A CONSTRUCTION company has admitted failing to adequately secure fencing around a temporary building site in Kidderminster town centre after high winds blew it over, severely injuring a woman.

Stourport firm Thomas Vale Construction pleaded guilty at Kidderminster Magistrates Court yesterday to failing in its duties under Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, which meant the solid metal fencing surrounding the Piano Building should have been able to withstand the wind, on May 15, 2012.

The incident resulted in a passer-by, a 54-year-old Kidderminster woman, suffering life-changing head injuries when the heavy fence panel hit her and it happened just 16 days after another section of the fencing had blown down on April 29.

The court heard before starting work on the Birmingham Metropolitan College site, Thomas Vale, in conjunction with the project's Construction (Design and Management) Co-ordinator (CDMC), had decided solid metal hoardings should be used instead of the usual timber hoardings, which would have been fixed into and under the ground.

Simon Belfield, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said after the April 29 incident Thomas Vale had attempted to better stabilise the failed panels. It did not understand, however, it was a problem with all the hoarding.

He accused the company of a continuing breach as the panels had been erected during the first week of April and could have fallen over on any day with high winds during the six-week period.

"The company failed to adequately respond to the [April 29] warning," he said. "Proper precautions were not taken as a result of the incident."

He added: "Had the hoardings been designed to withstand the loading it could not have collapsed. Thomas Vale should have made sure the hoarding was designed to withstand any loading forced upon it. They did not do that. It fell down in two places on two occasions - the second occasion resulted in very serious injuries to a member of the public."

Andrew Cameron, defending, said: "It was not the case the company ignored the [April 29] warning - they responded to it but their response was insufficient. They could have done more."

He argued the failure was in the design and installation of the hoardings, meaning the breach had occurred only once but accepted it had caused a continued risk.

He said the decision to use solid metal fencing and not fix them under ground was made along with the CDMC, and not unilaterally, to prevent items from being expelled from the site and not to disturb underground cables to a nearby electrical sub-station. He added Thomas Vale had been reassured by its supplier the hoardings would withstand foreseeable wind speeds.

Mr Belfield revealed the woman who was struck, now 56, attempted a phased return to work, where she was a business administrator, in January, 2013 but found it "overwhelming and disorientating" to be around computers, lights and noise. She finished on September 12 last year and is no longer employed, working one afternoon a week in a charity shop.

She drives but is limited to a 15-mile radius around her home, had to give up dancing and long walks with her friends and has to be in bed by 8.30pm because of how tired she becomes. Her sense of taste and smell has diminished and she cannot go outside on a windy day.

He said: "It has had quite an effect on her. The underlying cause is the fence had not been subject to proper design and was not able to withstand foreseeable winds."

Mr Cameron said the company was "genuinely upset and deeply regretted" the injuries. The court heard the woman had begun separate civil proceedings against Thomas Vale in which the company admitted liability.

Thomas Vale is due to be sentenced on Monday, March 31.

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