A court has fined the council £66,667 over health and safety failings which led to the death of a school caretaker.
David Mobsby, 77, was cleaning the roof of a bike shed at Blatchington Mill when he slipped and fell about 2.5m, leading to “catastrophic” injuries to his head.
Today, district judge Tessa Szagun told representatives of Brighton and Hove City Council it should be fined £600,000 for not ensuring the school had effective health and safety measures in place.
But after hearing that the dire state of council finances meant such a fine would have a significant impact on council services, she slashed the amount they have to pay.
Sentencing, Ms Szagun said: “A detailed letter from the council’s chief finance officer sets out clearly a significant reduction in funding.
“As a result the council have had to find savings of £10.3 million, £10.7 million and £10.6 million in the last three years.
“The current budget shortfall for this financial year is £12.6 million and due to previous cuts and savings, it’s unable to provide any further cuts.
“They have therefore had to borrow internally £2 million and due to previous borrowing to cover the unforeseen costs of the pandemic, reserves are now at £9.4 million and are frozen for the life of the council at £9 million.
“In real terms any penalty will impact on frontline services. Any fine would have significant and detrimental impact and that’s therefore something that justifies a substantial reduction in the penalty.
“This in no way detracts from the seriousness of the offence, or the tragic and wasted life of David Mobsby and the impact that would have had on his family and friends.”
Mr Mobsby was meant to have been helping move furniture on 3 August, 2018, but had decided to clean the bike shed roof on his own.
He decided not to use a jetwash because it was too heavy.
CCTV showed him using two ladders to get to the roof, and placing a telescopic surface cleaner and a broom on it.
He was told by his line manager Mr Wang, who had an MA in health and safety, not to carry on, but ignored him.
He appeared to have lost his footing while reaching for the tools, and landed on his head. He died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital three days later.
The court heard he had been difficult to supervise, and his line manager Mr Wang had asked the headteacher – Ashley Harrold – to manage him.
The council said it was not involved in recruiting or supervising him, and had not been notified of his disregard for safe working practices.
But the Health and Safety Executive, which brought the prosecution, said it should have asked schools if any employees were undertaking work using unsafe practices.
This was not uncovered during an audit of the school’s health and safety procedures in 2014.
The council had supplied schools with comprehensive health and safety resources, including instructions on safe practices when working at height.
But in the three years before the fall, there had been 58 times when staff had worked at height with no risk assessment.
And staff were not given any training in how to safely work at height – including Mr Mobsby who had not been given any such training in the 17 years he had worked at the school.
The school itself was criticised by a jury for “inadequate management” of him at an inquest in 2019.
Both the school and the council were told to take urgent steps to improve health and safety, management and training of employees by senior coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley.
However, the Health and Safety Executive prosecuted the city council as Mr Mobsby’s ultimate employer.
The city council pleaded guilty at the first opportunity at Brighton and Hove Magistrates Court on 30 January this year.
Deb Austin, Brighton and Hove City Council’s Executive Director, Families Children & Learning, said: “Since Mr Mobsby’s untimely death, the council has amended its advice and training to all schools in the city to ensure a terrible tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.
“We are working with our family of schools so relevant staff are competent in working at height.
“This includes ensuring:
- An updated and revised health and safety policy for Work at Heights has been adopted by every school setting in the city
- All settings have identified and risk-assessed work at height activities, including assessing whether work at height can be avoided
- All school staff in the city that work at height have undertaken appropriate work at height training and there is competent staff to coordinate the work
“The council has also sent more than 12 separate pieces of communication to school settings with reminders and updated Work at Heights guidance and training.”
A spokeswoman for Blatchington Mill directed queries to the council.