Deadly fall on building site is public scandal, insists sheriff

A SHERIFF has described the death of a Polish worker on a Scottish building site as a "public scandal".

Labourer Andrezej Freitag died when he fell down an unguarded smoke extraction shaft in a block of flats in Dundee.

Sheriff Richard Davidson ruled the death was "entirely foreseeable and entirely preventable" and said those responsible should be "utterly ashamed" of their actions.

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Mr Freitag, 55, fell nearly 10ft down the shaft on the site at Arbroath Road, Dundee, on 29 May, 2008. Last June, construction company Discovery Homes Ltd, of Kinross, was fined 5,000 at Dundee Sheriff Court after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to provide a guard rail or barrier at the shaft on the construction site.

Richard Pratt, a director of the company who was acting as site manager, was fined 4,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the same act.

In his determination, following a fatal accident inquiry into Mr Freitag's death, Sheriff Davidson stated: "Mr Freitag died as a result of an accident which was entirely foreseeable and entirely preventable.

"That is a public scandal and those responsible, particularly Mr Pratt, should be utterly ashamed of their failures."

His judgment continued: "There is no doubt that the smoke extraction shaft down which he fell was unguarded and constituted an obvious risk which should and could have been eliminated."

Sheriff Davidson said Mr Pratt was fortunate not to be facing further criminal charges for lying to the first inspector from the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to arrive at the scene of the tragedy. He had erected barriers after the accident and pretended they had been in place all along.

The sheriff said that Mr Pratt's behaviour merited "outright condemnation". He added: "Fortunately for him, he decided not to persist. But he was still fortunate not to find himself charged with an attempt to pervert the course of justice, and anyone inclined to conduct themselves similarly should be aware of this."

In his determination, Sheriff Davidson also expressed concern about the number of inspectors employed by the HSE and their procedures.

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He stated: "There is not an adequate number of health and safety inspectors in the employment of the HSE in Scotland to maintain an adequate system of independent inspection of building sites to oversee the maintenance of reasonable standards of health and safety."

He also criticised the "absurd" practice whereby inspectors did not carry out follow-up visits to building sites. Sheriff Davidson said: "I recognise the limited resources available to the HSE, but consider this practice is unacceptable, having regard to the public interest. I recommend henceforth that in every case where a prohibition notice is issued that there should be a re-inspection before the notice is withdrawn to ensure that all matters which gave rise to the issue of the notice have been rectified."