Football club fined over volunteer’s fatal fall from height

St Albans City Football Club has been fined £1,000 following the death of a volunteer.

71-year-old Clive Churchhouse, who had carried out ‘odd jobs’ at the club for many years, suffered fatal injuries after he fell through fragile roof sheeting at the Clarence Park ground.

Luton Magistrates’ Court heard how Mr Churchhouse, a lifelong fan of the club, had been trying to repair a leak in the roof when the tragedy occurred on 18 July 2017.

Mr Churchhouse had been using his own ladder to carry out the work. He was being passed wooden planks by a fellow volunteer in order to mend the roof, which was made of corrugated cement boards. After a branch blocked his path half way up, his colleague left to find a secateur to remove the obstruction. He then heard a crash and returned to find Mr Churchhouse lying at the bottom of the terrace stairs.

He was airlifted to hospital but later died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries.

According to the club’s co-owner Lawrence Levy, Mr Churchhouse had not been asked to carry out the work and the club were unaware that he was planning to undertake the repairs.

A tragic accident

A coroner’s inquest reported that Mr Churchhouse’s death was a tragic accident, a sentiment that was reiterated by Mr Churchhouse’s son.

Speaking in defence of the club, he said that a lack of signage was not to blame for his father’s death as Mr Churchhouse “would have done it anyway”. He stressed that the family would not want to see the club prosecuted.

The coroner concluded that the incident occurred out of “an abundance of enthusiasm, rather than a lack of safety”.

£ 0
Total penalty

Ruling

Despite the merciful response from Mr Churchhouse’s family, an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the club had neglected to implement an appropriate system for authorising work undertaken by volunteers.

The investigation also found that volunteers were given keys which allowed them uncontrolled access to the ground. This, combined with a lack of supervision, had enabled Mr Churchhouse to gain access to the roof and to carry out the repairs in an unsafe manner.

St Albans City Football and Athletic Club Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The club was ordered to pay a fine of £1,000, court costs of £1,000 and a victim surcharge of £100.

Regarding the apparent leniency of the fine, Lawrence Levy said: “The judge recognised the importance of the club to the community of St Albans and the fact that its survival has been funded by its directors. He also recognised the input of the Churchhouse family.”

Speaking on behalf of the club, Levy extended his sympathy to Mr Churchhouse’s family and thanked them for their generosity “in what has been a really difficult time”.

"Employers who use volunteers have to ensure their safety, the same as if they were a paid employee."
Sandra Dias, HSE Inspector

Wholly avoidable

After the hearing, HSE inspector Sandra Dias said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable fatality caused by the failure of the club in its duty of care towards volunteers”.

She emphasised that, just as employers have a duty of care to paid employees, they also have a legal obligation to ensure the wellbeing of volunteers.

Nick Wilson

Director of Health & Safety Services

Expert Comment

Small organisations or charities greatly benefit from volunteers, as it helps them to tackle their daily operations and deliver services. With a rise in volunteer work in the UK, it has never been more important for organisations to ensure effective health and safety arrangements are in place to provide for their safety. 

Although volunteers are not directly employed by an organisation, the Health and Safety Executive is very clear that organisations have a ‘Duty of Care’ to protect their health, safety and wellbeing. This can be achieved by sharing your risk assessment findings and control measures with them and also ensuring that adequate training and supervision is provided.