A Welsh care home company, Hafod Care Association Ltd, plead guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £96,000 and ordered to pay £100,000 in costs.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the company at Cardiff Crown Court for failing to ensure an elderly resident’s safety. The resident managed to overcome a restrictor device, designed to restrict the width at which a window can be opened, and was fatally injured after she fell from her bedroom window. This behaviour is not unusual; falls from windows are a very well known risk in the health and care sectors. Between 2005 and 2010 there were 21 fatal accidents from this cause across the UK.
An investigation by HSE found that all the windows were fitted with the same type of window restrictors, which were unsuitable for use in a care home because they could be easily over-ridden. Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Janet Viney, said:
“This tragic incident could easily have been avoided if Hafod Care had fitted suitable window restrictors. The care home had been open for more than two years and although window restrictors were fitted, they were unsuitable because they could be easily over-ridden…It is therefore essential that care homes take measures to ensure vulnerable residents are kept safe. They should carry out a risk assessment and where it identifies that individuals are at risk from falls from windows then adequate restrictors should be fitted. These should restrict the opening to 100mm, be robust and not able to be over-ridden without the use of a specialist tool or key. In this case the risks were particularly high because of the very low (650mm) window sill height, which would allow someone to accidentally fall from the window when opening or closing it.”
In order to give care home providers a better understanding of the real risks of running a care home both to their residents and their staff, the HSE has recently published guidance intended to help care home operators a better understanding of the risks and how to manage these risks effectively.
This is being published in a period of change. At present, HSE and local authorities investigate serious worker and resident incidents. It is anticipated, however, that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England will soon become the lead investigator of incidents where residents have been harmed because of unsafe or poor quality care.
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