Care charity fined £20k after scalding incident

The case was heard at Livingston Sheriff Court. Picture: TSPL

The case was heard at Livingston Sheriff Court. Picture: TSPL

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A NATIONAL care charity has been fined £20,000 for Health and Safety failings which resulted in a 32-year-old woman being badly burned by scalding hot water.

Real Life Options, which runs hundreds of care homes across the UK, admitted failing to assess the risk of scalding from bathing a member of the public.

Nicola Jones, 32, suffered 38-40 per cent scald burns after a plumbing fault allowed her bath to be filled with scalding hot water.

A sheriff described the incident at a care home in Bathgate, West Lothian, in August 2013 as a “serious and reprehensible breach of care”.

Livingston Sheriff Court heard Nicola’s carer – 41-year-old Sharon Dunlop – failed to test the temperature of the water before allowing her to step into the bath.

The court was told that Nicola, who has severe learning difficulties, was unable to communicate the danger she was in.

She said: “Hot” when she stepped into the scalding bathwater but sat down before Dunlop could realize what was happening and help her out.

Nicola’s screams of agony attracted the attention of other carers at the Gideon Street care home in Bathgate, West Lothian.

They rushed into the room and helped Dunlop drag her out of the water.

She was taken to hospital where she had operations to amputate ten toes and remove the damaged skin and flesh from her ankles.

Nicola, who ironically was being bathed to get ready for a walking expedition on the morning of the incident, will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

A resident at the Real Life Options registered care home for 14 years, she still faces more corrective surgery.

Solicitor advocate Raymond McMenamin, defending Dunlop, told the court she had lost her job as a result of her “simple error” on the day.

He said: “This is a most tragic case and the greatest tragedy is that of the injury and consequences suffered by Nicola Jones.

“My client only learned about the extent of the injuries at a consultation with me during the process. She was deeply upset and still is.

“She finds it difficult to sleep and suffers flashbacks. The indications are she will continue to be burdened with the consequences of her error perhaps for the rest of her life.

“I stress this was a single error albeit a tragic one. There was no malice or intent to injure.”

Dunlop, of Blackridge, West Lothian, earlier admitted breaching Health and Safety laws.

She was sentenced to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work under a community payback order within 10 months as an alternative to prison.

Solicitor advocate John McGovern, for the company, said it employed 1800 staff at 82 locations and turned over £40million a year.

He said the company had apologized to Nicola and her family and had co-operated fully with the HSE. It had complied with improvement notices and had since bought hundreds of scoop thermometers to test water temperatures at all its locations.

The court was told a thermostat in the immersion heater had failed causing scalding water to reach the taps.

Staff members were supposed to check the water temperature before the service user bathed and fill out a record of this check but Real Life Options had not provided written instructions confirming this.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found no risk assessment was in place for the risk of exposure to scalding water and the thermometers provided in the home were inadequate.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Peter Hammond said Dunlop had been unaware of the technical failure which had caused the water flowing into the bath to be scalding hot.

But he told her: “You failed to check the temperature and when Nicola Jones stepped into the bath she was unable to communicate the nature of the emergency or remove herself from the bath.

“She was left with a devastating legacy from these injuries and will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“You knew you were dealing with a vulnerable adult and failed to take reasonable and proper precautions yourself to check the water temperature.

“This was a serious and reprehensible breach of your duty of care for a person for whom you were responsible.”

Nicola’s parents, named as Dennis and Angela Jones, from Callander, Stirlingshire, declined to comment as they left court.

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