Charitable company sentenced over injury to service user

The Action Group, a limited company in Edinburgh,  providing housing support services for vulnerable adults and children.  It has been sentenced after a service user was burnt at one of its properties.  The group has a variety of residential properties that it operates or leases. One of those properties is at Greenbank Grove, in the Morningside area of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard that five service users required 24 hour support with every aspect of day to day living including personal care.

On 18 April 2015, a female 49-year-old service user with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and severe learning disabilities was assisted to a shower room by a support worker. During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation was described as being very hot due to the radiator lacking an individual thermostatic control.

While the support worker was aware the radiator was hot, she did not consider it to be hot enough to burn. The support worker showered the service user and began drying her while she was sitting on a chair.  She then assisted the lady to step out of the shower area and take hold of a grab rail which was positioned above the radiator. While standing over the radiator her leg came into contact with the radiator.

As the service user is non-verbal and has difficulty balancing she was unable to move her leg away from the radiator or to communicate with the support worker to alert her. It is unknown exactly how long her leg was against the radiator.

The support worker noticed a burn on the left side of the injured lady’s left calf. She alerted the assistant team manager and the lady taken to a specialist burns’ unit in Livingston for treatment on the burn that extended 20 centimetres up her calf.  A follow up appointment resulted in the victim having a skin graft and has been left with permanent scarring.

During the course of the investigation it came to light that The Action Group had been alerted to the risk posed by the radiator. In November 2011 a routine inspection was carried out by Edinburgh City Council Environmental Health team. The written report required the radiator to be covered and a follow up email in 2012 asked whether the radiator in the bathroom had been provided with a suitable cover to protect clients from scalding.

Despite this being drawn to their attention, the court heard the company’s internal systems failed to ensure remedial action was taken. The Action Group also failed to carry out any general internal risk assessment regarding the danger posed by the radiator in question although an individual risk assessment in relation to the injured party identified that she was at risk from heat sources because she might not be able to move away from them easily or quickly.

The Action Group, registered office at 57 Albion Road, Edinburgh pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £8000, reduced from £12,000 for an early guilty plea.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Hazel Dobb said:

“It was foreseeable that an unprotected, hot radiator could pose a risk to vulnerable individuals with reduced mobility and to those who could not react appropriately or quickly enough to prevent injury.

There are several published sources of guidance on preventing burns and scalds which are available to download from the HSE website and we urge all dutyholders to visit the resource to help avoid such incidents in the future.”