Charitable trust fined after butler death

A charitable trust responsible for maintaining a Tudor stately home has been fined after a butler was crushed to death by a faulty lift.

The lift was suspended by a wire rope attached to a winch. A trapped piece of luggage had jammed the lift which made the rope slack.

A court heard the Burghley House butler “leant into the lift over the balustrade to try and free the jammed luggage resulting in the lift suddenly dropping on to him”.

No safety measures

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) said the lift should have been fitted with a slack rope detection device. An investigation also found there was no emergency brake to prevent it dropping rapidly.

The lift was described in court by the under-butler as “a little bit cranky”. It had jammed before and occasionally did not work.

No inspection or risk assessment

The lift had not been inspected by a competent lift engineer since its installation in the late 1950s.

HSE inspectors also discovered the trust had not carried out a safety risk assessment on the lift which was used to transport guests’ luggage. While a maintenance manager would inspect the lift he was not an engineer and there was never a “thorough examination”.

The HSE said a suitable risk assessment would have identified the significant risk associated with using the lift.

Sentence

The judge said the trust’s “culpability” or degree of fault was high since it:

  • Failed to put in place standard industry measures
  • Had no Health & Safety inspection
  • Failed to respond to flagged up defects

The judge felt the risk was “obvious or should have been obvious”. Under tougher sentencing guidelines the starting point for a fine could have been £500,000.

But the judge revised it to £266,000 along with costs of £17,000 to reflect the trust’s acceptance of responsibility and early guilty plea.

Burghley House Preservation Trust admitted failing to ensure the welfare of an employee contrary to its duty under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

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