5 YEAR OLD KILLED BY DAMAGED WHEELCHAIR LIFT

The housing association that owned the Weymouth home where five-year-old Alexys Brown was killed while using the damaged wheelchair lift needed by her disabled brother has been fined £1m after an HSE prosecution.

Synergy Housing, part of the Aster Group, was sentenced earlier this week after a hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. Orona, the company that manufactured and installed the lift and had a contract to maintain it, was also in the dock and given a fine of £1,533,000.

The court heard that the lift had not been inspected in the 18 months before the accident: it was serviced only four times between 2009 and 2015, with the last thorough examination in 2012. According to HSE guidance, lifts carrying people should be inspected every six months. HSE inspector Leo Diez said: “From December 2013 until 12 May 2015, the lift was not inspected at all – even though safety critical problems had previously been identified they were not rectified. “In 2015, when the call-out report contained a warning, there was still a failure to act. Those breaches went unchecked over a long period of time during which the lift became more dangerous for the Brown family to use.”

The Browns were not provided with safety critical information concerning the operation of the lift; and no risk assessment was carried out following the change of lift user when the family moved in. On 13 August 2015, Alexys used the lift to get her brother’s phone from upstairs. However, she was able to put her head through a broken Perspex vision panel at the side of the lift. As it rose to the first floor, she became trapped underneath the ground floor ceiling and died as a result of her injuries. To ensure the lifts were maintained and repaired, Aster Property, another company within Aster Group, managed a contract on behalf of Synergy with Orona.

Aster Property arranged for Orona’s maintenance and repair visits to take place and to control the work, while Orona’s staff carried out the work. The Perspex vision panel lift became damaged in early 2013, but this was not fixed or replaced.

In May 2015, an Orona engineer visited the property to inspect the lift and noted the vision panel was damaged. In his report, he wrote “Routine service visit – glass in door smashed!” but the panel was not fixed or replaced. As well as the problem with the vision panel, there were issues with emergency lowering and the lack of an emergency hand winding wheel during the Brown family’s tenancy, although documentation shows that these issues had existed since January 2011. On the day of the accident, it was reported that the children’s grandmother had to call the fire brigade to release Alexys, as it was impossible to lower the lift without an emergency hand winding wheel. The lift had also been modified from its factory settings so that it could be operated by anyone at any time without the need for a key. Health staff working with Alexys’s brother had raised concerns over the lift’s safety, but these had not been taken seriously enough. The HSE investigation found a catalogue of failures by the three companies. As the Brown family’s landlord, Synergy Housing had primary responsibility for the safety of the lift at the property; Aster Property had the responsibility for arranging lift maintenance; and Orona was responsible for carrying out the lift maintenance and repair work.

Synergy Housing accepted that its duties were not to be delegated and that the failings of Aster Property also formed part of its breach. The charge against Aster Property, of Sarsen Court, Horton Avenue, Devizes, was ordered to be left to lie on the court file and was not separately sentenced. Orona, of Europa View, Sheffield Business Park, Sheffield, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000. Speaking after the hearing, Lorraine Brown, Alexys’s mother, said: “The last three years have been unimaginable; the loss of Alexys has impacted our lives and our children’s lives immensely. “To have this investigation brought to an end has now offered us some closure. Despite this part of our story coming to an end, the outcome will never be what we all wish for, nothing will ever bring Alexys back to us. “Lexi was a loving, carefree, angelic little girl who was full of energy, love and laughter. I hope that what has happened to our family sheds light on others in order to avoid anything like this ever happening again. “We are now looking forward and raising our children with memories, photos, videos and stories of their sister.” HSE inspector Leo Diez said: “These companies failed in their duties to put systems in place to ensure the lift in the Brown’s family home was kept safe – more could have been done by Synergy, Aster and Orona. “As a result of their negligence, a wholly avoidable tragedy, under horrific circumstances, has occurred where a five-year-old child has lost her life and a family have been left utterly devastated at the loss of their little girl. “Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take the appropriate enforcement action against those who flout health and safety law.” Aster Property was also involved in another recent health and safety prosecution, when it was acting as the client for a general builder when a labourer suffered a fall through a fragile roof.

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