A company in Worcestershire has been fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after shop hoardings fell on a woman and caused her to sustain life-changing injuries.
Thomas Vale Construction was refurbishing part of Birmingham Metropolitan College in Kidderminster when the accident took place in 2012.
The unnamed 56-year-old woman involved in the accident was walking past the site when two sections of the hoarding blew over and collapsed onto her, leaving her unconscious on the floor.
After initial observations by paramedics took place, the woman was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with substantial head injuries, which included severe concussion, bruising on the brain and a gash on her head.
She spent 16 days in hospital and was not able to work for seven months, arguing that her sense of taste, hearing and smell have been negatively affected, while poor balance makes her day-to-day life very difficult.
As is normal in these cases, the HSE took charge of the investigation and attempted to establish the facts of the case.
Inspectors found that the woman's injuries came just two weeks after another part of the perimeter fence at the college was blown down by winds, but on that occasion nobody had been injured.
Magistrates in Kidderminster were told that despite the potential seriousness of this accident, Thomas Vale Construction did not seek expert advice on fixing the problem and instead left it to inexperienced workers without proper training.
A report into the accident concluded that given the project's busy town centre location, managers should have put the fence through a proper risk assessment and designed it not to collapse in the manner it did, which put pedestrians in serious danger.
Next to the safety of workers, considering public health hazards should always be the top priority on construction sites and the HSE was dissatisfied that Thomas Vale took this into consideration when planning the project.
For its part in the unidentified woman's injuries, Thomas Vale was fined £20,000 and told to pay costs of £10,250 to cover legal fees after executives pleaded guilty to a single breach of Regulation 28(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
Speaking after the hearing was completed, HSE inspector Jo Anderson said the accident could easily have led to a fatality and was an example of poor planning.
"Thomas Vale Construction had a duty to its workforce and to members of the public to ensure the hoarding around the site was safe," she explained.
"This fencing was constructed using guesswork.The company failed to seek expert advice in order to ensure the hoarding was designed correctly and did not consider the substantial force which strong wind can impart on solid hoardings. This woman, who had parked and was on her way to the shops, suffered life-changing head injuries in what was a preventable incident. Without doubt, though, we could easily have been dealing with a fatal incident."
By Francesca Witney