MEL Health and Safety Consultants

A grandmother and her 21-month-old grandson were splashed and scalded by hot bitumen when a roofer’s ladder slipped because it wasn’t properly secured, a court has heard.

They both sustained serious burns in the incident at the grandmother’s home in Reigate, Surrey, on 9 June this year.

The grandmother, who does not want to be identified, required skin grafts on both hands and a foot, and also burned her head and face. Her grandson received burns to his chest, forehead, face, lips and under his right arm. Both needed extensive hospital treatment.

John Terrell, 50, from High Wycombe, was prosecuted today (25 November) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the incident and injuries could have been avoided had he taken more care.

Redhill Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Terrell, a self-employed roofer, had been contracted to felt a flat roof and was using bitumen that he melted at ground level before it was transported up a ladder.

He and a colleague had already climbed the ladder several times without incident, but it slipped just as the grandmother, with her grandson in her arms, approached the workers to ask if they wanted a cup of tea. The bucket fell and the bitumen spilled directly on top of them.

HSE’s investigation found that the ladder had not been secured to prevent a slip. It was also in a poor condition, with missing or badly worn rubber feet.

The court was told that insufficient measures were taken to prevent the slip and spill, and that it was a wholly unnecessary incident.

John Terrell, of Everest Close, High Wycombe, was fined £1,335 and ordered to pay a further £1,100 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Amanda Huff said:   “Extreme caution must be taken at all times when working with bitumen because it can be incredibly harmful – as the grandmother and her young grandson can sadly testify.

“John Terrell didn’t take extreme case. He was using a ladder with clearly visible defects that wasn’t properly secured, and they sustained horrific burns as a result.

“Members of the public must be kept out of harm’s way when dangerous materials are being used. The ladder issues aside, the incident could also have been avoided had they been told to stay at a safe distance.”

Info Bite 135
November 2013