Fall highlights care home risks

Ref: Corin Williams 09/10/2013 - 15:00

The HSE has issued care home warnings.

An independent care home provider has been fined £175,000 after EHOs uncovered serious health and safety failings were implicated in the death of a 72-year-old resident. The case has highlighted concerns over health and safety in care homes and fears that a reduction in proactive inspections is putting residents at risk.

Yuk Kiu Lee fell from her first floor window at the Dell Field Court home in Finchley run by the Fremantle Trust in December 2011. She suffered severe chest and abdominal injuries and died at the scene.

Ms Lee, who used a Zimmer frame and wheelchair, spoke very little English and had only moved into the home 18 days before her death.

A prosecution was brought by Barnet Council following an investigation into the incident.

Barnet EHOs found a window restrictor had been disabled at some point after 12 October 2011, the last time it had been checked before the accident. This meant the window could be opened freely.

Although it is not known who disabled the restrictor, contractors had been brought in during late October to carry out work to the room.

The council decided the company’s health and safety procedures were inadequate and the case was brought to Wood Green Crown Court on 19 September. The Fremantle Trust pleaded guilty to health and safety offences and was fined £175,000.

A council spokesperson said: ‘Mrs Yuk Kiu Lee’s death was a tragic event and the investigation carried out by the council’s environmental health team showed that Fremantle’s safety checks fell below the high standards expected.

‘Our duty towards the health and safety of our residents remains paramount and we will continue to carry out regular inspections of our care home providers to make sure they continue to protect our most vulnerable members of society.

The incident was one of a number of similar cases that prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to issue a safety alert on falls from windows. The CIEH has also raised serious concerns over preventable accidents at care homes and warned that cuts in proactive inspections have increased risks to residents.

CIEH principal policy officer Jenny Morris said: ‘This is an accident that should have been avoided as this is an issue that has been highlighted in the care sector for many years.
‘As health and safety inspections decline it will be important for businesses to ensure that their health and safety controls are “fit for purpose”.

‘Whilst most will do so, the CIEH believes that cuts to local authority posts and reductions in proactive inspections will increase the numbers of health and safety incidents over time.’

Local authorities undertook nearly 40 prosecutions against residential care homes between 2008 and 2012. In general the HSE regulates nursing homes and councils are responsible for residential care homes.

But there are exceptions. In January 2012 the HSE undertook a prosecution in which a Wrexham care home was fined £66,000 after a 79-year-old resident fell from a window.
The man, who had dementia, had repeatedly tried to break open the window’s restrictor. The incident took place in June 2008.

An HSE spokesperson said: ‘Falls from windows in health and social care can cause serious injury or fatality. The issue has been the subject of much work to raise awareness across the sector, including a new webpage and an information sheet published in August 2012 setting out how to reduce the risk of falls. Both of these can be found on our website.

‘We are also working with the Department of Health on a revision to existing guidelines on window restrictors and are carrying out research into forces that can be applied by determined adults.’

The HSE also issued a Safety Alert in March 2012 on a particular type of window restrictor.

The Fremantle Trust was asked by EHN to comment on this story.

Ref: http://www.cieh.org/ehn/

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