Gritter fall leaves Cumbernauld man paralysed

A firm has been heavily fined for safety failings after a young father was left paralysed from the neck down after falling from the top of a gritter.

Colin Shields (34), from Cumbernauld, was standing on top of a gritter at Inex Works Ltd’s premises in an effort to help his colleagues dislodge compacted grit salt from inside the machine when the incident happened in December 2010.

Airdrie Sheriff Court heard Mr Shields suffered irreversible damage to his spine as a result of the fall and now requires help and assistance with his day-to-day care.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) probe revealed a number of significant failures in the company’s management of health and safety.

At the time of the incident the company operated from a yard in Burnside Industrial Estate, Kilsyth. When Mr Shields returned to the yard following a gritting job in Blackford, Perthshire, he saw three of his colleagues clearing grit salt from the chute, spreader and gritter box on the gritter vehicle and offered to assist.

Mr Shields climbed the ladder at the back of the vehicle to gain access to the top of the gritter body. As he moved towards the rear of the vehicle to get a pole to help him dislodge the salt, his foot slipped and he fell head first onto the ground.

His fellow workers raised the alarm and he was rushed to hospital but was found to have sustained several fractures of his spine, leaving him paralysed. He remained in hospital until July 2011 and later had surgery to his right arm that has provided him with some limited movement.

A married man with two young daughters, one of whom was born four weeks after the incident, he had been a fit and active individual who enjoyed playing a number of sports and also played guitar in a band.

HSE Inspectors found that Inex Works Ltd had failed to take sufficient measures to prevent falls where work was being carried out at height. The method used by its employees was unsafe as the gritter was not designed with a working platform, walkway or hand rails and Mr Shields was not wearing a harness or restraint to prevent him from falling.

Inex Works Ltd was fined £13,500 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

HSE Inspector Hazel Dobb, said, “Mr Shields could have easily been killed. As it is, he has been left with irreversible injuries and he and his family have obviously been devastated.

“Inex Works Ltd failed to make sure employees were able to work in safety. This incident could have easily been avoided as there were several other ways this work could have been carried out, such as using alternative means of access or use of a harness.

“Tragically, that is a lesson for the company learned too late for Mr Shields.”