BT fined £500,000 after worker breaks back and ankles

British Telecom plc (BT) has been fined for management failures that in part led to an engineer falling seven metres, breaking his back and both ankles in the process.

BT engineer David Spurgeon was working alone to fix a faulty telephone line in the loft area of a residential block of flats in Tower Hamlets, East London at the time of the incident. During the callout, Mr Spurgeon lost his balance, tumbled through a ceiling and landed on a concrete stairwell some seven metres below. He was seriously injured as a result — breaking his back and both ankles.

The incident, which took place in May 2011, was subsequently investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which found a series of management failures. There was inadequate planning for the work being carried out by Mr Spurgeon, especially as the work involved fragile surfaces in the loft area, and no supervision was given that may have prevented an accident.

If your company employs staff or contractors to work in potentially hazardous areas, it is important that the proper precautions are in place to reduce the risk of injury. As part of these precautions, you should ensure you have employers' liability insurance to cover the type of work being done.

British Telecom plc (BT) was found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Safety and Health at Work Act of 1974 at the Old Bailey courthouse in London. The telecoms giant was subsequently fined £500,000 and forced to pay additional courts costs amounting to £98,913.51.

Kevin Smith, an HSE inspector working on the case, said: “David Spurgeon is lucky to be alive. There were a number of failures of health and safety management by BT, which related to planning the work, supervision and checking it was being carried out safely. Work at height needs to be properly planned, and this incident could have been prevented.”