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PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANY PROSECUTED

Fall into flood pit cellar in flats lands ‘arms length’ firm in dock

Lewisham Homes Ltd, a council arms-length organisation responsible for managing more than 14,000 properties in London, has been fined after a meter reader was injured when she fall into an unprotected flood pit cellar beneath a block of flats.

Angela Watson, fell 2.5m through an open inner door as she felt for a light switch in a caretaker’s cupboard in the lobby of a block of flats in Forest Hill on 28 October 2011.

Westminster Magistrates heard (22 May) that Ms Watson had been sent to read several utility meters including a communal electricity meter. Two of the four blocks have flood pit rooms going down 2.5 metres below ground to allow excess water to collect in heavy rain.

Ms Watson used a fire brigade key to open the caretaker’s cupboard in the lobby, leaned inside to find a light switch but fell through an open inner doorway into the flood pit beyond. Her jaw later needed to be screwed together and she has needed extensive reconstructive dental surgery.

HSE found that the outer door to the caretaker’s cupboard had an insufficient lock, no warning signs, no light and the flood pit room was also unlit. The inner door had no locking mechanism and no signs warning of the dangers behind.

Full risk assessment of housing stock required

Lewisham Homes Ltd, the council’s arms-length organisation responsible for managing more than 14,000 properties, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £5,804 in costs after pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Matt Raine said:

“Angela Watson took the full force of this fall on her face and wrist, causing extremely painful and long-lasting injuries. I am pleased she has managed to return to work but she has been badly affected by the incident.

Lewisham Homes Ltd had taken control of a significant quantity of housing stock from the council. It was a large responsibility and yet they were completely unaware of the existence of the flood pit rooms at these flats.

They should have made a full assessment of the housing stock to ensure they identified any risks associated with it and put suitable measures and controls in place.

A combination of having locks on both outer and inner doors, warning signs, lighting and access equipment to the pit would have prevented people being exposed to the significant risk of falling in.”

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