Two Companies Fined Following Death of Five-Year in Disability Lift

Two companies have been sentenced following the death of a five-year-old girl who became trapped while using a lift at her home in Weymouth.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard how Alexys Brown’s family moved into the property in 2009 of which a supported housing group is the owner. The property had an internal lift used by Alexys’ brother who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition and uses a wheelchair.

On 13 August 2015, Alexys got into the lift to get her brother’s phone from upstairs. She put her head through a hole in the vision panel and as the lift moved upward, the five-year-old’s head got stuck between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. Alexys Brown died as a result of her injuries.

When one of the Perspex vision panels in the lift became damaged in early 2013, this was not fixed or replaced by the supported living group. In May 2015 an engineer visited the property to inspect the lift under LOLER requirements and noted the vision panel was damaged.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a catalogue of failures by the companies involved in the maintenance of the lift who pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and have been fined a total £1.5 million and ordered to pay costs of £80,000 between them.

Speaking after the hearing, Lorraine Brown, the mother of Alexys Brown said:

“The last three years have been unimaginable; the loss of Alexys has impacted our lives and our children’s lives immensely.

“To have this investigation brought to an end has now offered us some closure. Despite this part of our story coming to an end, the outcome will never be what we all wish for, nothing will ever bring Alexys back to us.

“Lexi was a loving, care free, angelic little girl who was full of energy, love and laughter. I hope that what has happened to our family sheds light on others in order to avoid anything like this ever happening again.

“We are now looking forward and raising our children with memories, photos, videos and stories of their sister.”

HSE inspector Leo Diez said: “These companies failed in their duties to put systems in place to ensure the lift in the Brown’s family home was kept safe...

“As a result of their negligence, a wholly avoidable tragedy, under horrific circumstances, has occurred where a five-year-old child has lost her life and a family have been left utterly devastated at the loss of their little girl.

“Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take the appropriate enforcement action against those who flout health and safety law.”

Leo Diez continued: “Safety-critical aspects of the use and maintenance of the lift were also missed. From December 2013 until 12 May 2015, the lift was not inspected at all – even though safety critical problems had previously been identified they were not rectified. In 2015, when the call-out report contained a warning, there was still a failure to act. Those breaches went unchecked over a long period of time during which the lift became more dangerous for the Brown family to use.”

Findings by HSE during the investigation included:

• Tenants were not provided with safety critical information concerning the operation of the lift;

• No risk assessment was carried out following the change of lift user when the Brown family moved in;

• Concerns raised during service inspections were not addressed including:

  • The Perspex vision panel had been damaged for up to 18 months prior to the incident. On 12 May 2015, an engineer completed a service inspection and, in his report, wrote “Routine service visit - Glass in door smashed!” but this was not fixed or replaced;
  • Problems with the emergency lowering and lack of emergency hand winding wheel during the whole of the Brown family’s tenancy, and which was shown in the documentation from at least January 2011;
  • The key switch used to control operation of the lift had been modified from factory installation to allow removal of the key in any position. Because the switch was in the “on” position with the key removed, it could be operated by anyone at any time.

• Concerns raised by Alexys’ brother’s health workers were not taken seriously enough;

• According to HSE guidance, lifts carrying people should be inspected every six months but, in this case, the lift was serviced only four times between 2009 and 2015 and was not thoroughly examined since 2012.

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