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legal briefi ng

safe notsorry a

recent health and safety prosecution involving Holmes Place in central London has once more highlighted the crucial

health and safety message of dealing with problems as and when they arise, and not simply ignoring problems that could have potentially lethal consequences. In May this year, Holmes Place Health

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Club Limited and Thyssen Krupp Elevator Limited were each fi ned £233,000 at Southwark Crown Court after pleading guilty to a number of health and safety offences. In addition, costs of £170,000 and £205,000 were awarded against the two parties respectively.

track record The case concerned a fatal accident at the Holmes Place Health Club in the Broadgate complex, when a member of the club was crushed to death between the lift car and the lift shaft after becoming trapped in the doorway of the lift as it inexplicably descended while she was still exiting it. It was established by the prosecution that, for months

before the tragic accident, the lift was well known by gym staff and users to be unreliable. It malfunctioned far more often than it should have done. In fact, it malfunctioned so often that gym staff had given up calling out Thyssen to repair the lift when it stopped working. Following the investigation, it had not been possible to determine exactly why the lift malfunctioned in the way that it did. However, whatever the cause was, the accident did not come without warning. There had been numerous

Craig Baylis, a partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner and an expert in health and safety, explores the lessons highlighted by the recent Holmes Place prosecution

best practice guidelines

Continually review health and safety management practices Ensure that external contractors are fulfi lling their obligations Don’t expose staff or customers to obvious risks Don’t operate equipment that’s obviously faulty

In extreme circumstances, close the premises until they are rendered safe

incidents with the lift in the months and weeks before the fatal accident. Indeed, the picture that builds up from the prosecution case is that, in the weeks leading up to the fatal accident, the lift was notoriously unreliable and would regularly get stuck. There had also been several occasions on which the lift had suddenly dropped or fallen without warning when passengers were inside it. It should have been obvious to everyone that something was seriously wrong with the lift, requiring it to be taken out of service. Meanwhile, Holmes Place had a maintenance contract

with Thyssen which required the latter to visit every month for planned and preventative maintenance, and also to provide a 24-hour callout service in the event of signifi cant problems. Thyssen’s own records show that it did not visit the lift every month to carry out preventative maintenance. The faulty lift was not, however, the only means of

accessing the club’s premises: the club was served by several lifts, including one that was used for taking down towels and a goods lift. In addition, there were stairs down to the club from street level, as well as stairs inside the club which were used to get to the fi tness studios and changing rooms.

duty of care From a legal perspective, the law does not expect Holmes Place to be expert in understanding technical difficulties

“the accident did not come without warning – there had been numerous incidents in the months and weeks before the fatal event”

54 Read Health Club Management online at july 2010 © cybertrek 2010

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