A religious group has been fined nearly £500,000 after a volunteer fell from an unsafe scaffold tower and later died.
The group, Science of Soul, which has its headquarters in Haynes Park, was fined £364,000 with prosecution costs of £117,643 and a victim surcharge of £120.
The incident happened at Haynes Park on Friday, April 4, 2014. and while the organisation pleaded guilty to nine separate charges under health and safety law, it disagreed with various investigation findings, resulting in a two-day hearing at Luton Crown Court last week.
The court heard that volunteers were working on a newly installed electrical system in the main hall, a building owned by the landlords Radha Soami Satsang Beas British (RSSB) Isles, a charitable organisation affiliated to Science of the Soul.
Volunteer Mr Amrik Blaggan was working atop a scaffold platform tower, inspecting and reporting on the internal lighting at high level. He was reaching up and outwards to remove ceiling tiles to access the lighting when he fell to the floor, taking the ceiling tiles and metal light fixings with him. He sustained catastrophic head injuries and died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital two days later.
The court heard that police who attended the scene asked Science of the Soul to leave the mobile scaffolding tower in place and to preserve the incident site until the health and safety team had visited. Central Bedfordshire Council Officers were informed of the fatality on April 7 and immediately attended the site.
However, they were informed that the scaffold tower had been hired from an external company and was no longer on site.
The health and safety investigation found no evidence that Mr Blaggan was trained to safely build a scaffold platform, or to work at height in a safe manner. It also found that the mobile scaffold tower was built in an unsafe manner using inappropriate components; was fitted with inadequate safety barriers to prevent a fall; and there was no information or instructions available to assemble it correctly. The investigation also found that the health and safety supervision was being carried out by another volunteer – an elderly gentleman with poor eyesight who was not trained in health and safety.
The council’s officers also found general poor health and safety on site, with multiple pieces of unsafe machinery and equipment, including another scaffold tower, defective ladders, and unguarded machinery. Science of the Soul had a lack of risk assessments, safety instructions and information; volunteers were not trained in health and safety; and there was a lack of a safety management system to ensure volunteers working on site were safe.
During the investigation both Science of the Soul and RSSB failed to fully cooperate with the investigating officers. This made the investigation difficult and lengthy.
Speaking after sentencing, Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “The Science of the Soul organisation clearly failed in their legal duty to ensure a safe workplace, resulting in the tragic and unnecessary loss of life for one of their volunteers.
“The scaffolding tower simply wasn’t up to the job, and Mr Blaggan’s life was put in danger the minute he started to climb it. This case should act as a warning to organisations not to cut corners and to make sure they use the right equipment for the job they’re doing. We hope the outcome of this case will ensure that companies take health and safety in the workplace more seriously.”