A COUNCIL has been fined £80,000 after a horrific blunder by workmen resulted in the death of a 90-year-old woman.
Catherine Walker died after she fell into a hole in the hallway of her home which had been left open by workers from West Lothian Council.
The staff had been working on a new heating system in Mrs Walker’s East Calder home. The fall caused major injuries and she died in hospital three weeks later.
Last night, her husband, 90-year-old Arba, paid tribute to his “carefree” wife of 65 years and welcomed the decision of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to slap the swingeing fine on West Lothian council.
The tragic incident happened at the couple’s end of terrace home in Broompark View in July 2009.
According to statement from the HSE, Mrs Walker “walked into the hallway of her house…to go to her bathroom. She fell into an unguarded access hole and suffered major injuries from which she later died.”
The HSE said the council workers were carrying out gas repair works as part of a programme to upgrade the central heating systems in all of the council’s domestic properties.
“The work involved fitting new radiators, pipework, a boiler and electrical control systems. As the pipework runs under the floors, the floorboards were lifted in order to do the job,” said the HSE.
On Monday, West Lothian Council pleaded guilty at Livingston Sheriff Court to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £80,000.
Mr Walker told the Daily Mail: “I think it is quite right that they have been fined.
“The hole had been there for two or three days. I think it was covered with some kind of plywood at one point but it must have slipped out of the way.
“Catherine just fell through the hole. It must have been about two feet deep. She hurt her thigh and private parts.”
Mr Walker, a former HGV driver, said one of their sons, Robert, who lives with them, was in the house and helped to pull his badly-hurt mother from the hole.
He said: “The ambulance came and took her to the Royal [Edinburgh Infirmary]. She was there for three weeks before she died. I think her heart just gave out.”
The couple had six children and three grand-children. Mr Walker said: “The whole family is still very shocked by what happened. She was in good health before she died, very active.”
The couple married at the end of the Second World War, during which Mr Walker served in the Royal Air Force and was based at RAF Leuchars, Fife.
“She was a good wife, carefree and jolly,” he said. “We’re not thinking about compensation, though. It is just one of those things that happen. No-one intended it to happen.
“What I do hope is that lessons are learned from this.”
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Inspector Garry Stimpson said: “This tragedy could have been avoided. The council employees should have covered the access hole or erected a barrier around it – this would have ensured the safety of Mrs Walker.
“Those working on central heating systems in a residential property must ensure that suitable and sufficient measures are taken to protect the residents.
“Every year thousands of projects involving central heating installation and upgrading are carried out across Scotland . Every time work is carried out contractors must take positive steps to prevent incidents – otherwise this type of incident will happen again.”
A West Lothian Council spokesman said: “West Lothian Council wishes to express its regret and sympathy to Mrs Walker’s family.
“The council unreservedly apologises for the failure that led to their loss.
“This tragic incident has been treated with the utmost seriousness and the council cooperated fully with the investigations of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
“The council has worked in liaison with the HSE to review and implement actions and to ensure that everything practicable is done to carry out work safely in all circumstances. The council understands that the HSE is satisfied with the actions taken.”