£90k fine for care home lift shaft fall

A care home firm in Flintshire, Wales has been fined £90,000 after one of its staff – a newly-recruited care home manager – fell down a lift shaft.

Pearlcare Wellfield Limited was found guilty of four health and safety breaches at Mold Crown Court after Lorraine Carter was seriously injured in the incident at the Wellfield Residential Care Home in Wood Lane, Hawarden.

In 2018, three days after starting her job as manager of Wellfield Care Home, Mrs Carter was alerted to a fault with the home’s lift, which had not dropped fully to ground floor. After opening the lift door on the first floor using an emergency key – which she had been directed to by a staff member at the home – Mrs Carter fell down the shaft and sustained serious injuries.

During the trial, The Leader reported that that lifts expert David Cooper had been called in to inspect the lift following the incident. Mr Cooper told the court that the lift was simple in design and is commonly used in nursing homes. He said that although the lift was ‘old’ – it had been installed in 1999 – and some of its parts had become obsolete, there was ‘nothing wrong’ with it simply being old.

Following his inspection on site, Mr Cooper had been given the care home’s policy documents to review. He said that while he didn’t take issue with the company’s passenger lift policy, it appeared to him that there was a disconnect between the document and what was happening on site.

Mr Cooper said the lift’s emergency release keys should be stored in a secure location for use only by authorised personnel who are trained in the specific task of releasing someone who is stuck in the lift, or managers who should only pass the release keys to such an authorised and trained person.

He said: ‘I’d expect there to be a safe system of securing keys. [On this occasion] There was no reason to use a release key in my opinion – there wasn’t someone stuck. I see no evidence that the injured party was trained in the use of the release key.’ Mrs Carter confirmed to the court that she hadn’t been trained in the use of the key.

James Michael Hill, prosecuting for Flintshire Council, told the court: ‘We say multiple people were exposed to the risk of harm and the level of harm risked was in fact death. Someone falling up to 2.4 metres could clearly lose their life.’ He added that he would not apply for compensation because civil proceedings are pending.

Pearlcare Wellfield pleaded not guilty to the charges against it but following the jury’s verdict, Mark Alexander Balysz, defending on behalf of Pearlcare Wellfield, said the company accepted the conviction of failing to ensure the safety of employees and non-employees.

Judge Niclas Parry said: ‘The facts of this case serve to underline the high standard imposed on companies like the defendant company.’ He said the systems Pearlcare Wellfield had in place regarding the lift were ‘inadequate’.

In addition to the £90,000 fine for the charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of employees, Judge Parry also ordered Pearlcare Wellfield Ltd to pay an additional £85,000 costs.

Great Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that passenger lifts and combined goods and passenger lifts in workplaces that are primarily used by people at work should be subject to periodic thorough examination and inspection, as required by Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) legislation. HSE guidance for lift owners and others responsible for the examination and testing of lifts is available here.

The Lift and Escalator Industry Association also has its own safety information sheet in relation to the control of lift access and release keys here.

Last year, Europe’s biggest regional airline Flybe was fined £100,000 after a worker fell into a lift shaft at Exeter Airport.