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Sign company fined over Vauxhall Accident

Sign company fined over Vauxhall Accident
The Royal Courts of Justice in London where the case was heard.

The Royal Courts of Justice in London where the case was heard.

When a section of a huge wooden sign positioned more than three metres above the pavement in Vauxhall, London was blown down by a strong gust of wind, it fell onto the head of pedestrian causing a permanent brain injury.

The Health & Safety Executive prosecuted both the owner of the sign, St George South London, an agent for the site owner, St. George PLC and the signmaker, A E Tyler, then trading as Allsigns.

At the Old Bailey in September this year St George South London was fined £300,000 with £222,692 costs and A E Tyler was fined £60,000 with £22,855 costs.

The accident happened in March 2008 and as a result, the pedestrian, Olivia Richardson, was hospitalised for five weeks and required significant brain surgery.  A former primary school teacher, she is no longer able to work and still suffers permanent effects from her injury.

The Old Bailey was told that parts of the timber sign, measuring approximately 12m x 3m, had decayed to the point where it could be blown down by a strong gust of wind.  The HSE investigation revealed that the sign had a design life of two years but had been in position for over nine years and had never been checked for structural soundness.

Judge Rebecca Poulet QC said the sign was ‘supremely hazardous’ and more could have been done to ensure the system of maintenance, including structural checks, were in place. “St George South London allowed this sign to go under their otherwise vigilant radar.”

A E Tyler admitted its guilt at the first opportunity in 2011, but denied having a lasting duty to maintain the sign over the years that it stood on the site.

However, the judge ruled that A E Tyler was guilty of not informing St George South London of the temporary nature of the sign and of not warning of the dangers during subsequent visits to the site.

Following the court case David Catanach, Director of the British Signs and Graphics Association (BSGA) said that the accident in Vauxhall highlighted how crucial the correct maintenance of signs is and how devastating the consequences can be when things go wrong.

“It provides a salutary lesson for everyone involved in either making or buying signs,” he said. “It is a lesson learned by A E Tyler.”

He said that the BSGA’s Technical Committee, with help from staff at A E Tyler, was working on the drafting of an additional clause covering sign maintenance for BS 559, the British Standard that governs signmaking and installation.  The BSI has accepted the new clause in principle.

Mike Freely, current Managing Director at A E Tyler, said: “In the five years since this incident, our entire health, safety, quality and training procedures have been carefully reviewed and we have taken significant steps to ensure that a similar situation does not arise in the future.

“The current management team is determined to do everything possible to ensure that such an incident never happens again as a result of the company’s work.

“We also look forward to contributing further to the BSGA’s on-going consideration of BS 559 and assisting its members in understanding the consequences of not taking action.”

David Catanach added that, as a result of this terrible accident, St George PLC, had also taken action by becoming a member of the BSGA and insisting that all its sign contractors are also members and adhere to the Association’s Code of Practice.

“Businesses that fail to meet the requirements can be – and are –brought to book under Health and Safety, Planning and/or Building Regulations legislation and, as the recent case illustrates, both the owners and manufacturers can be held responsible and have a legal obligation to ensure the proper installation, inspection and continued maintenance of the sign.

“It is to be hoped that every sign business adheres to the correct procedures to make sure that we avoid a repeat of the dreadful incident at Vauxhall,” he added.

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