Kettering General Hospital Trust (KGH) has been ordered to pay a hefty fine of £484,376.15 following a court ruling over a tragic incident where a worker suffered severe brain damage after falling into a fume-filled drain. Gerard Ellaway, an engineer in the KGH estates department, met with this unfortunate accident while attempting to clear a sink in the rheumatology department.
The incident occurred on February 1, 2022, when Ellaway was trying to address an ‘eggy smell’ emanating from a sink. He poured hydrochloric acid down the plughole and subsequently lifted a manhole cover, only to be found unconscious an hour later in the 8ft deep drain. The toxic and flammable gas, hydrogen sulphide, combined with the fall, resulted in serious injuries, including brain damage.
In court, District Judge Nick Watson emphasized the severity of the trust’s oversight, stating that their systems of work and training were inadequate, lacking in proper precautions and formal procedures. The judge noted that the fine would inevitably impact staff, users, and the local economy but deemed it a necessary “salutary lesson” for the trust.
Ellaway’s colleagues discovered him after noticing his tools beside the open manhole. Firefighters rescued him, but the damage was severe. After spending seven weeks in hospital and undergoing treatment at KGH’s A&E department, Ellaway was left with a 5% cognitive impairment, unable to perform basic tasks without assistance.
Prosecutor for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Samantha Wells, highlighted the extent of Ellaway’s injuries, which necessitated relearning basic skills like walking, with his wife Sharon becoming his primary carer.
KGH pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Judge Watson concluded that the lack of correct procedures posed a real risk of death and physical and mental impairment.
Deborah Needham, the hospital’s chief executive, expressed sincere apologies to Ellaway and his family, acknowledging the trust’s shortcomings in ensuring his safety. She outlined the measures taken since the incident, including hiring more health and safety advisers, increasing hazard awareness training, and updating guidance.
HSE inspector Heather Campbell stressed the importance of recognizing and appropriately risk assessing confined spaces like the manhole in question, underscoring the need for safe systems of work, as outlined in the HSE’s Approved Code of Practice.
The Workers Union Says…
“This case serves as a grim reminder of the critical importance of workplace safety, especially in environments with inherent risks like hospital maintenance. The trust’s response indicates a commitment to improving safety standards, but the incident’s impact on Ellaway and his family remains a poignant testament to the consequences of safety lapses.”