Steeplejack falls 50 metres to his death from chimney

Grant Prior 13 years ago
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Two companies have been fined a total of £85,000 after a steeplejack fell 50 metres to his death from an Edwardian chimney in Bolton as a colleague was left clinging on for his life.

John Alty and another worker were at the top of the disused chimney at Swan Lane Mills in Great Lever on 4 June 2007 when the scaffolding they were on collapsed.

The 40-year-old father-of-one from Blackburn was pronounced dead at the scene but his colleague survived by clinging to a ladder on the outside of the chimney.

Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd and Ken Brogden Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive following Mr Alty’s death.

Angela Alty, the mother of his 19-year-old daughter, Jamie Lea, had recently separated from Mr Alty before his death. She said: “Things have been very difficult since John passed away. A big hole has been left in both our lives. Moving on is hard and not one day passes where we don’t think about him and what might have been.

“The way his death happened is difficult to come to terms with. I often sit and wonder what if I had given my marriage another go. Maybe we would have gone away and he wouldn’t have been on that chimney.

“Going out and socialising with friends at my local pub seems a real chore. The only place I feel happy at the moment is at work, maybe because there I have something else to think about.”

Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court heard that Alty’s employer, Bailey International, had been hired to carry out repairs to the brickwork on the chimney, and its two employees had been taking down the scaffolding when it gave way.

The HSE investigation concluded that the company had not used strong enough anchor fixings to attach the scaffolding to the chimney, despite knowing that the brickwork at the top was in a poor condition.

The Macclesfield-based firm, which employs around 30 people, also failed to check the scaffolding design and to test the fixings before they were used.

The court was told that the scaffolding had been damaged on a previous job, and that Heywood-based Ken Brogden had been hired to repair it. But instead of grinding out the joints and welding them back together, the company welded over the weakened joints.

HSE Inspector Stuart Kitchingman said: “If the work had been properly managed, and carried out to industry standards, then Mr Alty would still be alive today.

“Our investigation found that the most likely cause of the scaffolding collapsing was the weak anchor fixings. But we could not rule out the poorly repaired joints on the scaffolding as a possible cause of Mr Alty’s death.

“Working as a steeplejack is a potentially dangerous job, and they need to be able to rely on their employers to provide equipment that keeps them safe. Unfortunately, the scaffolding and fixings that were provided simply weren’t up to the job.”

Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd, of Grimshaw Lane in Bollington was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 towards the cost of the prosecution at Manchester Crown Court on 28 January 2011.

Ken Brogden Ltd, of Manchester Street in Heywood was fined £10,000 with costs of £16,000.

The HSE has produced a video on the tragedy including interviews with Alty’s widow. To view click here

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