The director of a flooring and carpeting company has been ordered to pay more than £130,000 after pleading guilty to breaching working at height regulations.
This followed an incident in which a contractor fell 30ft through a skylight and suffered life-changing injuries.
Lookmaan Namaji, co-director of Blackburn-based Floors ‘n’ Carpets Ltd, has been told he has 90 days to pay a £96,000 fine and £36,919.75 in costs after appearing in court of the Preston Crown on Monday.
The case, brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), relates to an incident in May 2020, in which Namaji hired a roofer called Nizamuddin Gorji to carry out repair work on the roof of the Floors ‘n’ warehouse. ‘ Carpets, the Cobble Building in Gate Street, Blackburn.
Preston Crown Court heard how Gorji enlisted two of his friends to carry out the repairs, which included re-cladding the existing roof, and work began on May 13, 2020.
A ladder, used to access the roof, was a foot too short, with the men having to crawl on their stomachs and chests to reach the surface they were working on.
The court also heard that none of the men had received PPE or training for working at heights, and one of the workers even took off his shoes and socks while on the roof in order to ensuring a better grip as he continued to slide. on the surface in his shoes.
On May 14, one of the employees, Taj Zahir, fell through the roof, sustaining serious injuries to his pelvis, arm, knee and face and has since undergone major surgery.
Gorji was not present at the time of the crash and did not report the incident to HSE, nor did Floors ‘n’ Carpets.
The company claimed it was not even aware work on the roof had started, or that none of the contractors were even on site that day – claiming that due to the coronavirus pandemic Covid and being in the midst of the first national lockdown there was a skeleton staff of around seven present across the whole site.
The incident was reported to the HSE by Mr Zahir’s uncle, who then reported it to the police.
An investigation by the HSE found that Gorji had failed to properly plan the roofing work or consider the equipment required.
There was no scaffolding in place around the building or underslinged netting, covering the flimsy skylights and asbestos cement sheets. He had not received any health and safety training and had not adequately trained the officers he employed.
At a hearing in July last year, Gorji, of Woodbine Road, Blackburn, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 9(2) and 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to pay costs of £3,000.
Another case against Floors ‘n’ Carpets unfolded alongside the lawsuit against Gorji, with the company seeking to dismiss the charge of breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Heights Regulations.
However, in April this year, Floors ‘n’ Carpets pleaded guilty to the sole charge and submitted their plea basis – that they did not know work had started.
The HSE claim that in hiring Gorji, Floors ‘n’ Carpets, which has an annual turnover of over £10m, failed to properly check the risk assessments and construction declaration method, and in doing so, failed to ensure that the work at height was properly planned, thus failing to undertake their due diligence.
Continuing, Rosalind Emsley-Smith said: “The HSE have acknowledged that Floors ‘n’ Carpets were unaware that Gorji workers were on the roof on 14 May 2020.
“However, the risk assessment was at a low level, and the method statement control measures that would have prevented Mr. Zahir’s fall from a height would not have been implemented until after his fall. C It’s a dangerous way to organize work at height.
“The method statement did not identify the working systems and the company had no entry or exit policies that would have alerted Floors ‘n’ Carpets to the fact that Gorji or his employees were on site – it was a major oversight of their management of their own premises.”
In a personal victim statement after he was released from hospital, Mr Zahir said he had difficulty going up and down stairs and had trouble sleeping at night.
He said: “I had a full-time carer and felt very upset during that time.
“My family was upset because of the situation and I became dependent on others, thinking my life had no meaning.
“I used to spend all day thinking, spending my days as a prisoner, sometimes thinking about ending my life.
“Neither Gorji nor Floors ‘n’ Carpets gave me any financial help, I was not even paid for the work I did on the day of the accident.
“Injuring myself affected my wife and children in Afghanistan, I haven’t been there for three years, and now the Taliban government will not allow women to leave unaccompanied.
“I can move around in a wheelchair but the physical and mental pain is still there, I am very worried about the future of my family and myself.”
By way of mitigation, Ian Simkin said Floors ‘n’ Carpets was unaware that Mr Gorji had started work on the roof, but expected to be told when work had started.
He said: “They had been convinced that he was a competent roofer, and not being roofers themselves, they were unsure whether the risk assessments provided by Gorji had been good enough.
“Gorji’s actions were reckless and cavalier, and the company did not know he had submitted valuations that were not of a high standard, but they admit they should have checked this before work began. .”
Sentencing Namaji and Floors ‘n’ Carpets, Judge Philip Parry said: “It must have been obvious from the outset that a high level of planning was required for this work.
“Gorji prepared a risk assessment and a method statement which were both totally inadequate, and I told him that when I sentenced him last year – he almost went to jail.
“No one from Floors ‘n’ Carpets was aware anyone was on site, there were no sightings and I was told it was due to the lockdown.
“It is remarkable that Mr Zahir did not die immediately and there is now a civil action against the company on his behalf.
“Your failure to properly plan this job is significant and it was because of those failures that you didn’t know they were working there.
“I accept that you have no knowledge of roofing work and that you have employed a contractor for this, but that does not absolve you or the company of its responsibility to inspect the documents provided by the contractor .
“It is true that you were not responsible for putting this man on the roof, but the failure to plan and verify who was there and to verify the method statement has led me to conclude that there’s been significant damage here.”
Floors ‘n’ Carpets were ordered to pay a total of £132,919.75 by September 19.
Civil proceedings against the company are ongoing.