A firm of estate agents has been fined after a househunter fell down a well in the garden of a home she had gone to see.
A court heard how the potential buyer had been encouraged by the agent at the house to have a good look round. The househunter stepped off a garden path onto a wooden board covering a well. It gave way and she suffered head injuries after falling 30ft down the well.
A Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the firm had been warned about the well and unsafe looking board by another potential buyer days before the incident. Yet the estate agents did not properly investigate the risk of someone falling.
The court was told an employee of the estate agents had visited the property but assumed the wooden board had a metal grill underneath it. He did not lift the board to check.
No risk assessment
The HSE investigation found:
- the estate agents had failed to assess the risks to the public
- there was no Health & Safety management system in place.
The house owner had died and there was no-one who knew the property to ask about possible risks. But the estate agents had no systems in place for risk assessment in such cases. Serious risks such as asbestos or electrical safety could therefore not be identified or controlled.
Strakers (Holdings) Limited broke the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by failing to carry out its general Health & Safety duty to someone other than an employee.
It was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,470.
The judge found the company’s “culpability” or degree of fault was high. There were no written or other procedures in place to make sure visitors were safe. Risks were not adequately assessed and controlled.
The risk of harm was also high because someone falling 30ft down a well could be seriously injured or killed.
Strakers had claimed no estate agents in the country had a written procedure. Nor was the company aware of any firms having special rules where property is part of a deceased person’s estate.
Defence lawyers had said Strakers was not in breach of any guidelines for estate agents and that there were no HSE recommendations relating to property being offered for sale.
However, after being informed about the well’s existence, the company had failed to investigate. As the judge said it had not raised the cover, shone a torch down the well or dropped a pebble to find out how deep it was or if there was water at the bottom.
The judge concluded the public had been exposed to very significant harm.
The HSE said the incident could easily have been prevented if the company had properly checked to see if the well was secure.