Dental firm’s £90k bill after skylight fall

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A DENTAL firm will have to pay more than £90,000 after a receptionist plummeted through a skylight and broke her back at work.

Catherine Scarborough was taking a cigarette break on a flat roof at the Fir Vale Dental Centre when she plunged through the skylight and into the treatment room below.

The practice - owned by a bigger company called Integrated Dental Holdings - has been ordered to pay a fine of £18,500, with costs of £71,632.

A jury took just three hours to convict the firm of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by unanimous verdict.

The incident happened five years after Fir Vale had been warned to remove the key from near the patio door that led to the flat roof - advice which wasn’t followed up.

The judge, Recorder Martin Simpson, said: “There was a failure to heed a warning. Roof lights are dangerous. Once you’ve started to fall the outcome is in the lap of the gods.”

Catherine broke two of the vertebrae in her back following the fall, and also injured her shoulder, knee and neck, needing hospital treatment.

“It was clearly a traumatic experience for her,” Recorder Simpson said.

In 2004 health and safety expert Victoria Waddle visited the practice on Blyde Road, Fir Vale, to carry out a risk assessment.

She raised the issue of the flat roof and said warning signs were needed, and suggested the key was put in a secure place.

“That advice was not taken, and remained not taken for five years,” Recorder Simpson said.

“The most reasonable remedy would have costed pennies - simply to remove the key.”

Mark Balysz, defending, said the dental firm ‘sincerely regretted’ the incident in March 2009.

“The accident exposed to the company a blind spot which they knew nothing about,” he said.

Catherine was having a cigarette and speaking to a colleague when she sat on the domed skylight.

The plastic covering on the roof light gave way, and she fell more than three metres.

Jurors heard at least five other workers had used the roof beforehand.

After the hearing, Health and Safety inspector Mark Welsh said: “You don’t have to fall from a great height to lose your life. It’s wrong that workers like the one in this case suffer serious preventable injuries because simple steps have not been taken to manage obvious workplace risks.”

He added: “Falls from height are the commonest cause of fatal injuries in the workplace and are also responsible for a large percentage of the most serious occupational injuries.”