An apprentice electrician sustained serious back injuries after falling through a ceiling while working in the loft space of a Swindon youth centre.

Richard O’Connor’s employer Roberts and Prowse (Swindon) Ltd failed to carry out a specific risk assessment for the work, and failed to ensure adequate measures were put in place to reduce the risk of a fall.

The electrical and mechanical contractors appeared before Swindon Magistrates today (14 May) in a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The court heard that Mr O’Connor, from Nythe, was 18-years-old at the time of the incident on 3 February 2010. He was undertaking electrical installation work at The Platform Youth Centre, on Farringdon Road, when he stumbled from a narrow timber walkway and fell onto an exposed plasterboard ceiling that gave way under his weight.

He managed to grab hold of a timber joist, but after a few seconds this also gave way and he fell five-and-a-half metres onto the floor below.

The apprentice sustained three fractures to his vertebrae as well as cuts and bruising. His injuries meant he was unable to work for two months.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Damien Milbourne, said:

“Richard sustained serious injuries in the fall, but he could easily have been killed as a result of his employer’s negligence.

“There was a failure by Roberts and Prowse to make a specific risk assessment for the work in the loft of the building. They also failed to ensure measures were put in place that would have prevented employees falling through the ceiling where they were working. Richard and others were left to work on and near exposed joists without suitable platforms or coverings or guardrails.

“Working at height presents clear risks, as the company should be only too aware, and it could and should have done more to protect its workforce.”

Roberts and Prouse (Swindon) Ltd, of Barnfield Crescent, Exeter pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in relation to the fall.  The company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,156 in costs.