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Council guilty of safety breach after woman falls into drain at care home

A council has been fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs after an 82-year-old vulnerable woman was injured in a fall at one of its care homes.

The woman, who suffers from dementia, was hurt when she fell nearly two metres into an unguarded open sewage drain at Oldfield House care home in Stainforth in March 2012.

Following an investigation, the Health & Safety Executive prosecuted Doncaster Borough Council over a breach of safety legislation.

The investigation found that a recently-qualified apprentice plumber was on site clearing a blockage in a live sewage drain via a manhole just outside a fire door at the end of a corridor.

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The plumber had left the open hole exposed and the fire door open while he went back into the building to fetch water to flush the blockage.

The elderly resident walked down the corridor and inadvertently through the open fire door and stumbled into the unguarded, open hole. She spent a night in hospital for treatment for minor cuts and bruising.

The HSE told Doncaster Magistrates’ Court that the council had failed to put simple measures in place to protect residents and staff while the work was being carried out.

These measures could have included placing temporary barriers around the hole, asking someone to keep watch on the open grate, or merely placing the cover back on the drain temporarily, and closing the fire door.

Doncaster Borough Council admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,040 in costs.

HSE Inspector Tim Johnson said: "This is a residential care home that will be, by its very nature, occupied by vulnerable and possibly easily-confused elderly people. It is, therefore, particularly important that proper planning and the greatest vigilance are duly accorded.

"It is fortunate this lady sustained only minor bruising but she was evidently badly distressed and did need an overnight stay in hospital.”

Johnson said Doncaster's risk assessment had outlined preventative measures to be taken but failed to follow that through.

“The inexperienced plumber was sent on his own, had not been trained in safe procedures and was not supplied with barriers – a failing that has since been rectified,” he said.

"All employers must make sure they provide the necessary equipment and train their employees to carry out work in a safe manner. However short the duration of a job, they must take into account the risks presented by the environment they are working in."

According to the watchdog, in 2011/12 there were 22 fatal slip, trip or fall deaths to members of the public in the health and residential care sector, with most of the victims over 65 years of age.

The sector also has one of the highest number of injuries caused by slips and trips, it said.

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