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Pensioner cheats death but British Gas pays £4,700

British Gas has been forced to pay £4,700, after an 81 year-old woman fell through an open hatch in her home, which had been left unguarded by the central heating installation contractor.
Adrian Newth, trading as Perthshire Oil Heating, was installing an oil fired central heating system in the elderly woman's property at the time of her fall. Newth had opened a hatch in the hallway floor but left it open, unguarded and unprotected- except for a closed living room door- while he and two electricians carried on working in other parts of the property.

The elderly householder fell through the open hatch as she was walking into her hallway to gain access to her front door. She suffered major injuries to her right upper arm and severe bruising and contusions to her back and legs.

The installation was part of the Scottish Government Central Heating programme and British Gas Services were contracted to manage the programme. Windsor-based British Gas Services pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches at Perth Sheriff court, and was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £2700 compensation to the injured householder.

Adrian Newth pleaded guilty on November 27, but was not fined. He was ordered to pay £300 in compensation to the elderly woman.

HSE principal inspector Jim Skilling said: 'This is one of four very serious incidents that my inspectors have investigated in a 12-month period in the east of Scotland.
'All involved elderly women falling down hatches or holes left exposed and unprotected where a contractor carried out plumbing, heating or gas replacement work in their properties. It is not sensible or acceptable for contractors to assume that simply telling the occupant to remain in one room is sufficient'.

He added: 'Contractors must take positive steps to prevent any incident by implementing a safe system of work approach where all holes are covered or have barriers to ensure the safety of all persons whether occupants or visitors. This was a wholly preventable incident, which has greatly affected the householder, and it could very well have proved fatal.'
1 December 2008

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