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The managing director of a farm has been fined £12,000 for safety failings after a worker was seriously injured in a 3m fall through a fragile cowshed roof.

Stuart Mitchell, 52, from St Leonards On Sea, East Sussex, broke five vertebrae and two ribs, and cracked his left leg socket in the incident at Gate Court Farm in Northiam, near Rye, on 15 September last year.

He now has limited mobility and has been unable to work since.

See also: FW Academy on preventing falls from height

Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Mitchell was working on top of a cowshed at the farm to repair a leaking internal gutter, with a fellow farmworker watching.

He climbed on to the top of the roof by ladder, before walking along the concrete gutter that collected water from surrounding roof sheets.

While he was on top of the building, he noticed a crack on one of the sheets that also required attention.

However, as he rested his foot on an adjacent sheet to take a proper look, it snapped, causing him to lose his balance. He fell forwards through the cracked sheet and crashed on to the concrete floor below.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that more could and should have been done to prevent the fall.

Magistrates were told that, as managing director, Rupert Cyster, 51, was ultimately responsible for how work at the farm was planned and managed, but on this occasion there was no agreed method of work in place.

He knew the work was under way but left the two workers to it, despite the fact neither had any formal training on how to work safely at height.

The court was also told that during previous roof work at the farm a cage fashioned from an old chemical container was incorrectly fitted to a telehandler to provide an elevated work platform.

HSE served four improvement notices to ensure any further work at height was properly planned and managed using the correct equipment and methods.

Mr Cyster, of Gate Court Farm, Station Road, Northiam, East Sussex, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay a further £881 in costs after pleading guilty to three separate breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Russell Beckett said: “Stuart’s painful injuries could easily have been avoided had the roof repairs been better planned and managed.

“The onus was on Rupert Cyster to ensure that happened, but he simply left the workers to it – not out of wilful ignorance, but it was a clear failing on his part nonetheless.

“Falls through fragile roofs account for almost a quarter of all work-at-height deaths, so it is absolutely vital that any such work is fully considered and that the correct equipment and working methods are used at all times.

“On this occasion the repairs should have been completed from underneath, avoiding the need to access the roof in the first place.”