A care home company has today been fined almost half a million pounds after an elderly resident fell from her first floor window and died.
Guildford Crown Court heard that the 87-year-old was staying at the Coppice Lea Nursing home in Surrey, owned and managed by Caring Homes Healthcare Group Limited. In the early hours of 3 October 2013, the woman fell about four metres through her window. She was reported missing at 1am and found two hours later. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the window restrictor in place, which normally prevents the window from opening fully, was easily overridden and therefore not fit for purpose. Caring Homes Healthcare Group Limited of The Colchester Business Park, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was today fined £450,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,762.44.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Rebekah Dunn said:
“It was clear from our investigation that the window restrictor was simply not doing the job of preventing the window from opening. It is alarming, and tragic, that an 87-year-old woman with dementia was able to defeat it. “Caring Homes therefore failed to ensure the woman’s safety, which is particularly important given its unique position of trust. All windows that are large enough for people through should be restrained sufficiently to prevent such falls. The 100mm benchmark should only be allowed to disengage using a special tool or key.”
This is a tragic case whereby an ineffective safety control measure to protect vulnerable residents have failed. Serious injuries and fatalities have occurred when people have fallen from or through windows in health and social care premises. The HSE list three broad categories of falls. These are:
- Falls arising out of a confused mental state
- Deliberate self-harm or suicide
Accidentals can occur where people unintentionally fall through or from windows. This can happen where people are able to sit on and fall from sills, or where windows are positioned such that people could easily fall through them. Windows that are large enough to allow people to fall out should be restrained sufficiently to prevent such falls. The opening should be restricted to 100 mm or less. Window restrictors should only be able to be disengaged using a special tool or key. Access may need to be restricted to balconies that are not designed to prevent people who are at risk from climbing over. The HSE provides further guidance – ‘Falls from windows or balconies in health and social care, Health Services Information Sheet No 5’.