Care homes differ from other workplaces because they are not only a place of work but also a home.

As well as having to provide a safe working environment, owners must also safeguard their residents.

Care home owners have been fined for failing to do just that…

The court heard a wheelchair-bound resident suffered a fatal head injury after falling down a flight of stairs.

The vulnerable pensioner had been able to operate his wheelchair alone but had days of confusion.

A search was sparked when staff noticed he was missing. He had last been seen going to a lift by the cellar door. His room was on the first floor.

He was found at the foot of the cellar stairs with his wheelchair on top of him.

Problems  

While the cellar was accessed using a keypad and the door was fitted with a self-closing mechanism, Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigators found:

  • it did not always shut properly
  • it opened on to the stairs so that the first step was directly behind the door
  • the handrail was fitted in such a way that it was not possible to have a good handhold along its length
  • there was no hand rail at the top of the stairs due to the door opening

The HSE investigation also discovered no risk assessment had been done for accessing the cellar, which was used daily by kitchen staff and the maintenance man.

As a result, no account had been taken of the door opening inwards directly on to stairs.

Liability denied

The owners denied breaching Health & Safety regulations as:

  • the door was said to be regularly inspected
  • no problems with the lock had previously been found

But following a trial a Crown Court jury delivered a unanimous guilty verdict.

Sentencing

The judge accepted the door had been regularly inspected and that problems had not been found before.

He also took into account the fact the firm had:

  • no previous convictions
  • fully co-operated
  • since installed a new handrail, door and lock

But he added that the cellar stairs were steep, the handrail had not been easy to use and entering the cellar was a tricky process.

The judge said ‘It is an accident which could and should have been prevented’.

He fined Akari Care Limited £120,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £41,997.

The HSE said it was unlikely the resident knew the key pad number to the door. The door could not therefore have properly been closed and locked.

It added ‘In this case, the risk assessment should have identified the potential risks to both Akari Care employees, visitors and residents of a door which opened inward without sufficient landing’.

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