Firm fined £85k after worker died in lift shaft fall

Rescue services outside the Temple Chambers, the former Freemason Hall in  Park Road, Sunderland.
Rescue services outside the Temple Chambers, the former Freemason Hall in Park Road, Sunderland.
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A COMPANY whose health and safety failings caused the death of a worker has been ordered to pay almost £100,000.

Grandfather Kevin Shickle died after falling down a lift shaft when he was taken on to carry out specialist renovation work at Sunderland’s former Masonic Temple.

The 52-year-old, of Pennywell, had been employed as a handyman by Durham Estates Ltd, which was converting the dining room and kitchen at the building into a gymnasium and changing rooms.

The company pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to ensure persons out of their employment were not exposed to risk.

Durham Estates, sister company of Tavistock Leisure, bought the Masonic Temple in Douro Terrace in 2009 and was in the process of converting offices at the time of the incident.

At Newcastle Crown Court, Judge James Goss heard evidence from health and safety experts to determine the severity of the failings by the firm – and whether they were a direct cause of Mr Shickle’s death.

The court company claimed Mr Shickle had gone beyond the job specification he was given and had been killed carrying out work he was never asked to do.

But Judge Goss dismissed the claim outright and said: “Mr Shickle was inadequately instructed and inappropriately left to his own devices on this task.

“The failings giving rise to the offences were a significant cause of his death.”

The judge fined the company £85,000 for the health and safety breach and said it must pay £12,000 costs.

Judge Goss said: “The fine is not and cannot be any reflection of the value of the life of Kevin Shickle, a hard-working family man whose life was so tragically lost as a result of health and safety shortcomings.

“No doubt he will be greatly missed.”

John Williams, defending the firm, said: “Can I express the company’s regret for this accident and the tragic death and articulate the company’s apology for its breach of duty.”

The court heard Mr Shickle, a dad-of-three and grandfather-of-two, had been given a specification sheet when he started the job, which involved removing two dumb waiter systems from the premises.

Prosecutor Michael Graham said: “It fails to make any specific reference to health and safety issues or safeguard measures and does not at all address the question of what was to happen to relation to the removal of the dumb waiter carriages.”

The court heard Mr Shickle began working on the project on October 4, 2010.

It was on October 7 that a company director from Tavistock Leisure found Mr Shickle trapped but still alive in a shaft three metres below ground level.

He had suffered head, neck and spine injuries in the fall.

Firefighters called to the building cut away part of the lift shaft before pulling him to safety.

Mr Graham said: “The fall resulted in significant injuries which led to a severe stroke, which was the eventual cause of death.”

Mr Shickle died two days later, on October 9. Mr Graham said it remains unclear exactly how and why Mr Shickle fell.

He said health and safety inspectors found the job specification given to Mr Shickle was “unsound and inadequate” in many aspects.

Mr Graham added: “The role was a specialist job requiring specific competence.

“Although Mr Shickle was a capable handyman, he had no specialist experience or access to specialist equipment.”

After the case, a spokesman for Durham Estates, which had a clean health and safety record, said: “We are dismayed at the outcome, as we at Durham Estates still maintain this was a tragic accident that nobody could have foreseen.

“As a company, the safety of all our staff is paramount, and we take it very seriously.

“We still remain shocked over the loss of Kevin who was a valued member of our team.”