Worker fell to his death

Christopher Heaton
Christopher Heaton

THE family of a “happy go lucky” St Helens man who fell to his death while working on a construction site have spoken out after two firms were fined for health and safety breaches.

Tragic Christopher Heaton was working on the Leftbank riverside apartments in Manchester city centre when he was dragged over a scaffolding platform guardrail after becoming entangled in a chain.

Spinningfields construction site

Spinningfields construction site

Liverpool Crown Court heard last Friday (June 29) how the 25-year-old suffered fatal injuries after plunging seven storeys on April 29, 2004 - despite the best efforts of colleague Howard Slater to save him.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the wrong studs had been used to secure the chain and that work had not been properly planned or monitored.

Mr Heaton’s father, Len, said: “The loss of our son has completely devastated our lives. After eight years, it is still hard to believe this has happened and, to try to put into words how it has affected us, is very difficult.

“Chris would still be alive today if simple health and safety rules were adhered to.”

He added: “Chris was a good lad, with a happy go lucky outlook. He loved his job and was looking forward to a career in engineering.

“I used to worry about him all the time, especially when he was out at night. Ironically, I didn’t worry too much when he was at work. I thought he was safe.”

Nigel Lawrence, prosecuting, told the court how Mr Heaton and Mr Slater had been “effectively working blind” after being asked to help out on the day - despite normally working as part of a separate team.

He also told how the site’s health and safety officer, Les Jones, had been given short shrift when quizzing bosses about the site’s temporary work arrangements.

Mr Lawrence said: “Something, somewhere and at some time was going to give. Unfortunately it happened when Mr Heaton was stood in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Newton-le-Willows based Shawton Engineering, for whom Mr Heaton worked, pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work.

Principal contractor Amec Group, who were also hit with a huge fine following the death of a worker at a power station near Cardiff in 2007, were convicted of failing to ensure the overall safety of workers following a retrial.

Shawton’s defence solicitor expressed the company’s “sincere regret and remorse” at Mr Heaton’s death, and explained that Shawton was now in administration and could only afford to pay a nominal fine.

Amec’s defence solicitor said the Warrington-based company had won several health and safety awards in its time and argued that this case did not show that Amec had fallen “a long way below the standard”.

Judge Thomas Teague fined Amec £300,000 and Shawton a nominal £1,000. Amec were also ordered to pay costs of £333,866.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Neil Jamieson said Mr Heaton’s life could have been saved had Amec and Shawton “acted differently”.