CHESHIRE West and Chester Council has been fined £300,000 after a young child fell almost three metres to the floor from a gap in railings on the Rows, sustaining serious head injuries.

Chester Magistrates Court heard how on November 16, 2018, a family were visiting Chester City centre to watch the Christmas parade.

While standing at a viewing point on The Rows at Bridge Street, their 21-month-old daughter fell through a gap in the railings onto the floor below, resulting in a fracture to her skull.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that one of the spindles on the railings had been missing since at least May 2017, leading to a significant gap (22cm) in the physical protection of the railings on The Rows.

Cheshire West and Chester Council failed to ensure that The Rows were maintained to prevent a risk of a fall from height.

No risk assessment or risk control measures were put in place for members of the public and employees accessing or working on The Rows before the incident occurred.

In addition, the council failed to provide adequate information, instruction and training to ensure employees understood the risks associated with a lack of maintenance of the Rows.

Cheshire West and Chester Council pleaded guilty of breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The local authority was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,607.40.

HSE Inspector Emily Osborne said after the hearing: “Councils have a duty to adequately assess and control risks to members of the public, and maintain structures for which they are responsible.

“A child suffered serious injury as a result of what was an easily preventable incident if the risk had been identified and correct action taken to prevent a fall.”

In response, Cheshire West and Chester councillor Carol Gahan, Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance said: “We have expressed our regret and apologised to the child’s parents.

"The judge found that the council had a good record with no previous convictions under the health and safety legislation. We had co-operated with the investigation, remedied the breaches identified by the Health and Safety Executive and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. 

“Since the unfortunate accident two years ago, a full review of the management of all the council’s assets has taken place. 

“Straight after the accident a full risk assessment of Chester Rows was carried out and repairs to all defects on Chester Rows, including those not owned by the council, were completed at the council’s expense.

"There is now also a quarterly inspection and arrangements for carrying out repairs to the Rows in place. 

“A full review of the judgement will be undertaken by the council’s Governance Board to ensure all lessons learnt from the accident are understood throughout the council. The council is also undertaking a full refresh of its Health and Safety culture.” 

CWaC added Health and Safety Executive was immediately notified and in collaboration with them the council quickly took the following steps; immediately following the incident, the gap in the railings was taped up. 

In addition:

  • The council’s repair and maintenance contractor was instructed to urgently undertake a ‘make safe’ repair to the railing which was completed later the same day. The council’s Building Control Team undertook a condition survey of all the Rows railings. 
  • Building Control wrote to each affected owner where the Rows were in private ownership advising them of the identified defect and notifying them of the need to undertake their own survey to firstly satisfy themselves as to the condition of their railings, and secondly to undertake any required remedy. 
  • The Events Management Team reviewed their risk assessments. 
  • A full risk assessment of Chester Rows was carried out. 
  • A permanent system for quarterly inspections and arrangements for carrying out repairs to the Rows was put in place. 

In addition, CWaC said a full review of the Council’s management of health and safety is also being undertaken.

This started in February and involves the following: 
1. A new health and safety strategy for the council with more emphasis on compliance and assurance 
2. A new Director’s Health and Safety Forum reporting into the Governance Board 
3. Training sessions for members of the Senior Leadership Team 
4. IOSH (Institution for Occupational Safety and Health) training for Directors / Senior Managers and Supervisors 
5. A campaign to highlight near-miss reporting 
6. A review of the council’s health and safety culture 
7. A comprehensive risk profile / assurance framework to be established 
8. A corporate risk-based health and safety monitoring / auditing system will be implemented to include all aspects of health and safety management, including building compliance, across all service areas 
9. Quarterly reports will include details of the Health and Safety Team’s audits / monitoring activity as well as accident statistics and occupational health data.